Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Published: Sept. 2013
Genre: Contemporary ‘Literary’
Source: Christmas present
My Rating: 4.5/5
Growing up in Calcutta, Udayan and Sabhash were as close as brothers could be, always there for one another no matter the consequence. But as they grow older and riots start all over India, Udayan becomes part of the Naxalite movement, believing that revolution is needed, and Sabhash goes to America to study at University. As they are each pulled in a different direction, the brothers lose the bond they once had. However, the choices they both make will bind them closer together than ever before, in ways neither could have predicted or wanted.
The first thing that struck me as I started reading was the writing itself; it is some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read, and for that reason alone I will be reading more of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. However, I feel the writing dramatically changes the tone of the book, making it more passive, which, to me, doesn’t quite match the story of action and unrest.
The book is set in both India and America and is primarily about family and identity. The story is framed around the Naxalite movement in India, a rebellion against poverty and the government. Personally, I knew nothing about this activist movement before reading The Lowland, but that didn’t affect how I saw the book as what needed to be explained was woven into the fabric of the storyline. Personally I find fiction can often be a better way of learning about historic and current societies than simply reading a textbook. In The Lowland, politics is the catalyst that sparks events in the characters lives, but overall the book is character-led. This means the reader can easily empathise with the characters, making the book a much more personal experience, even if you are like me and have no previous experience or understanding of the lives these characters live.
There are actually quite a few characters in the book as it spans over a few generations of the family. The book isn’t chronological, but there are enough clues within the writing to easily understand when and where each chapter is happening, and to whom. While written in third person, the writing jumps to different characters along with the settings, giving the reader a chance to delve deep into the minds of all of the main characters, rather than simply seeing the story from one point of view.
While it obviously isn’t a ‘happy ever after’, the book manages to avoid falling into a depressive and heavy mood and therefore is actually quite a quick read.
In general I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Lowlands and would recommend it to pretty much anyone. It will likely be best suited to those who enjoy stories that are clearly set in our current societies, those who love to learn, and those who enjoy books about family, but as I said, I believe everyone would enjoy reading this book.