Monday, March 16, 2015
Book Review : ‘The Lowland ' by Jhumpa Lahiri
This review has been due a long while. But, this was definitely worth the wait… at least for me. Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Namesake’ in 2003 was her first novel and this follows that one. ‘The Interpreter of Maladies’ her short fiction collection was her best work, according to me. Her first novel, ‘The Namesake’ did not impress me all that much, but ‘The Lowland’ definitely has her, in my good books all over again. You can Buy the Book, right here.
Not one to not explore her Bengali to America immigrant status, this book has that and more. The book was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. It starts off with two brothers, leading up to four different generations of families in India and Rhode Island, across almost 60 years, between all of them.
So, let us begin. Udayan and Subhash, the quintessential brothers begin their life in period of Second World War coming to an end. India, who gained her independence, is busy developing itself in Calcutta, after the civil war. The separation of Bangladesh comes into play and gives the lowland a new life.
Both the children are highly educated and loved equally, yet the preference for Subhash is shown, and one can see how it manifests itself, as the story moves forward. Udayan, the younger of the two ends up with Naxalites, and even disappears for a few days with the disappearing for a few days on some secretive, cagey business.
Subhash, on the other hand ends up going to the US, and finds his way into Rhode Island (where the author’s childhood was spent) for doing an oceanography course at a graduate school. Udayan, meanwhile brings home a dark-skinned philosophy student, Gauri whom he has married against his parents’ wishes. The two have a happy marriage, but it is cut short with his involvement with the Naxals. Subhash, who returns at this point, sees that his family is not the same, and marries the pregnant Gauri in order to save her from the life at home.
She, after giving birth to Bela, becomes more and more involved with philosophy, taking up classes at the university. She finally leaves the house, which never ended up being her home. She leaves behind Bela with Subhash, after the two return from India, on his father’s death. The mismatched pair of Gauri and Subhash comes to an end but not in divorce.
She, encouraged by her professor, quickly ends up in another state, taking with her, knowledge and ends up teaching. Lahiri, I felt did not explore the non-motherhood angle too well. Of course, there are parts when you can see it, and even feel it, but you never do get the other side of the picture.
Bela the daughter, in the meanwhile grows into an awkward child, but she is not without determination and true understanding of her situation.
Subhash, who is suddenly left alone to deal with the daughter’s travails as she grows up, is suddenly shaken out of his semi-sleep state as he reveals the truth behind her parentage. The marriage of convenience has suddenly come to an end.
One does not question why it all happened. One can see the upheaval of emotions, as Bela and her life comes into play. And Subhash’s too.
The novel twists and turns with so much humility. There are parts, when one moves in one’s seats and in unsure for whom to move for. The beauty of this book is probably in understanding why a certain event took place and how the whole thing came to its awkward end.