The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


Book NameThe Lowland

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Pages: 340

Genre: Adult Fiction

My Rating: 2 out of 5

Format: Hard-Cover checked out from the local library

Publisher’s Words: Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan—charismatic and impulsive—finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America. But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind—including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife. Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.

My Words: This is my first Jhumpa Lahiri book. It was only because ‘The Namesake’ was already checked out from the library. And this book has been an utter disappointment. This book may have an interesting plot but it does not have the depth of the characters to support it. The way the characters are sketched, their outlines are blurry and not distinctly etched out. The plot had enough to create an outstanding story out of it like the struggles of the Bengali communist party, the reconciliation of politics with the realities of everyday family life, immigration and integration, grief and its effects, and the evolution of people as they grow from youth to middle age to their winters. None of these were explored; they were merely described. Like the facts are just appended one after another throughout the book without any gaps for an afterthought. I found the book to be too cold, dull and gray.

The two brothers, close in age, are very different (one, angry, restless, protesting corruption, but also selfish, impulsive; the other, static, taking the easier road, detached, settled in his own loneliness), and they remain different. A girl – very independent, a philosophy major, with a streak of individuality and selfishness too. This is the story of how life brings these characters together and their lives later on. The book spans over fifty years of the adults’ lives, but yet they don’t change or learn or grow or develop as normal human beings do nor they show any inclination or ambition to do so. Years, decades, generations pass, but people don’t grow, change or express themselves- they just keep bitterness, love, sadness, guilt equally bottled up, and indulge in quiet renunciation (Subhash) or cold selfishness (Gauri). People mature with age and experiences – some acquiring wisdom and insight into complex human emotions. Some have regrets and seek mercy/salvation while some seek happiness and want to fill their lives and hearts with hope and cheer but there’s this common empty room in the hearts of Lahiri’s characters that refuses to be filled. The Lowland it leaves the characters partially stunted, emotionally pparalysedand sort of vacant. Lahiri’s characters don’t evolve, so they don’t seem real; they remain static, dooming the reader to boredom.

I wish I could say that this is a story of regret, of mistakes made, it is about being unable to forgive oneself and living a life of penance and atonement. But, alas, I cannot. The sole reason being that there is no trace of the will to perform atonement, penance, self-clobbering that is etched out on the characters.

Besides this, there is very little dialogue, and what little there is, is without quotation marks which seems lazy and distances the reader from the characters even more. There is no mention of the emotion of the character while delivering said dialogue. One cannot understand the intent behind the statement made by the characters which further blurs the character.

There is the naxalite angle going on in India added to give a dramatical edge to the book but that too seems just to be a history lesson. This one is utterly boring, bland, dry, with artificial stilted characters whose experiences bear no relationship to real life, and the entire book has no resonance or depth. I think this one’s not for me. I rate this a 2 out of 5.


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