The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I very much enjoyed this novel and I think part of this was down to being completely surprised by the turn of events. It is a story primarily about two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, but it became much more far-reaching than I first assumed. It begins during the 1960s in Calcutta, where the brothers live, during a time of increasing revolutionary unrest. India is no longer under British rule but neither is it completely satisfied with the current state of its supposed independence. This was interesting for me because it is a period of history in a country that I knew nothing about before reading the novel – the blurb on the back of my copy reminds you of the novel’s historical significance: “as US tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India” but I think the Naxalite movement and its connections with Chinese communism are something that has been overshadowed by Vietnam in the Westernised version of history that I’ve been taught.

Udayan becomes increasingly involved with the revolutionaries at home in Calcutta while Subhash chooses a very different path. The novel explores the consequences and effects of their choices and the familial bonds that irrevocably tie them together. Lahiri examines the motivations and the risks faced by someone who chooses to become so involved in politics. The story made me think about political sacrifice but also personal sacrifice and how the two can be bound together. Political sacrifice is often proclaimed to be noble or worthy or righteous or honourable but what happens when the cause being fought for is not realised? Does the fact the Naxalite movement failed change the ‘nobleness’ of the sacrifice that is made? But more importantly is the personal sacrifice worth the political one?

There are more sacrifices in the novel than just Udayan’s, and there is a focus on cause and effect. Each characters’ personal choices and reasoning are positioned within a much bigger picture without losing the intimacy with the characters that you get as a reader. There is a self-reflexive element to the story that asks: could the ripple effect that takes hold of the family ever have been predicted?

I’ve just posed a load of questions but that what was really great about the novel – it raised so many issues surrounding its characters that I’m still thinking about it now! I also apologise for not being more specific but I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot and remove the element of surprise that made me like this novel so much!

The Lowland is a book that deals with overwhelming sadness in a way that sort of reminded me of Thomas Hardy’s doomed characters; lives are irrevocably altered by suffering and trying to come to terms with loss. No one is immune from the chain of events that follow Udayan’s actions. This makes it sound very gloomy and not something that anyone would want to read, however it is a truly compelling novel and Lahiri deftly handles these powerful tensions and emotions.

I really liked her style of writing and it is worth noting the skilled craft of Lahiri’s prose. The landscapes and places in the novel came to life with Lahiri’s imagery; the coast and campus of Rhode Island and the streets and homes of Calcutta seemed like places I had visited through the vivid descriptions.

I would definitely recommend this book!

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6 thoughts on “The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

      1. Yes, I really liked them. I don’t normally like short stories, but I do like hers. I interned for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who published Interpreter of Maladies and that was how I first learned of her work. I would recommend them!

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  1. I loved this book! Like you, I was left thinking about it for a long time afterwards. It really made me question the nature of personal freedom and whether freedom always comes at a cost to others. I’ve still not come to a satisfactory conclusion, but I’m still brooding on it!

    Liked by 1 person

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