Monday, November 4, 2013

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I loved previous novels by Lahiri and this one did not disappoint.  I found it particularly interesting as it was primarily written from the perspective of men though it also told the story of several women.

Most of the book is written from the perspective of Subhash, at the start a young boy in Calcutta, who has no memories of life before the birth of his brother and constant companion, Udayan.  The boys are born during World War II and have vague recollections of the day Indian independence was declared - mostly of the fever they both suffered from at the time.  Despite Indian independence they are subjected to the remains of colonialism when they are beaten by a policeman for sneaking into a club that serves the British and other foreigners.

The boys attend school, then college and Udayan becomes enamoured with the Communist movement known as the Naxalites (for the town where it was born).  Subhash follows a more traditional path and accepts a position at a small college in Rhode Island.  Some of my favourite descriptive passages were those that contrasted the noise and crowds of Calcutta to the peaceful, emptiness in small town Rhode Island.

Subhash studies, becomes involved with an American woman who is separated from her husband, bonds with his roommate, a Vietnam war activist, and is alarmed to read a letter from Udayan informing him of his marriage to a girl he's been involved with since before Subhash left India.  Though Udayan's letters following his marriage no longer refer to his political affairs, Subhash eventually receives a telegram advising him of Udayan's sudden death.  He returns to India to face his parents who are broken and will not speak of what happened as well as Udayan's widow who has just discovered she is pregnant.

Udayan impulsively decides to marry her and bring her to the United States and to raise her child as his own.  The remainder of the book gives us the perspectives of Subhash, his wife and their daughter as they adjust to life together, and eventually apart, in the US.  We also slowly learn more about Udayan's political involvement and the events that led to his death.  By the end Subhash is an elderly man, who has earned his close relationship with his daughter and granddaughter.  The scenes between Subhash and his daughter are also wonderful to read.

I definitely recommend this book.

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