Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

From Subhash's earliest memories, at every point his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother's sight.
As the two brothers grow older their lives, once so united, begin to diverge. It is 1967. Charismatic and impulsive, Udayan becomes increasingly drawn to the Communist movement sweeping West Bengal,  the Naxalite cause. As revolution seizes the city's student community and exams are boycotted in a shadow of Paris and Berkeley, their home is dominated by the absense of Udayan, out on the streets at demonstrations. Subhash wins a place on a PhD programme in the United States and moves to Rhode Island, never to live in India again- yet his life will be shaped from afar by his brother's acts of passionate political idealism.
Udayan will give everything for what he believes and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him: his newly married pregnant wife, his brother and their parents. The repercussions of his actions will link their fates irrevocably and tragically together, reverberating across continents and seeping through the generations that follow. 
This is one of the most subtle books that I have read, Jhumpa Lahiri is an excellent storyteller.
Sunhash and Udayan are brothers and this ties the whole book together. The book is about politics in that Udayan becomes heavily involved in the Communist movement but more importantly it is about the characters and their relationships.
At times this book felt breathtakingly intimate, the characters are laid bare and we are granted access to their most personal thoughts and feelings, no matter how heartbreaking or difficult. The consequences of Udayan's choices are felt by every character in this book, his presence is everywhere.
The book has two main settings, West Bengal and Rhode Island. The author describes both in great detail and I loved the comparison between the two very different cultures and the way that Subhash behaves in both.
I think that The Lowland is an incredibly difficult book to review because as I said it is so subtle. It took me a while to get into the rhythm and pace of it but once I did, I was taken aback as to how much the author packed in. Politics, love, religion, culture, parenting, siblings, loyalty, loss and so much more.
I was about halfway through the book when the Man Booker Shortlist was announced and I was so pleased to see this book there. Jhumpa Lahiri has written a fascinating story that I will be thinking of for a long time.

Dot Scribbles Rating: 5/5
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 352

Many thanks to Madeleine at Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of the book to review, The Lowland is out now.


Nadia said...

Dot, I am dying to read this one and I am a huge fan of Lahiri's writing. I've just placed an order for the book and can't wait to receive my copy - it comes out next Tuesday here in the States. I loved your review - subtle and intimate are definitely the right words dwhen describing Lahiri's writing. Now, I'm even more excited to read this book - thanks!

Nikki-ann said...

I've not heard of this one before, but it sounds quite different. :)

Mystica said...

I didn't know of this one so appreciative of the review. Love her books.

jessicabookworm said...

Sounds like a great read. I love books set in India.

Rahul said...

A great plot presented in an artistic style.

"The Lowland" is a well presented work of fiction on the fate of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who grow up together in the suburbs of Kolkata. They make a conscious decision in their mid twenties to lead different walks of life which are diametrically opposite to each other.

The author masterfully depicts the bonding they share with each other, the result of which, they end up sharing the same girl by the name Gauri. The story proceeds further with the complications Subhash and Gauri face in leading their married life and raising a child. The thrill of what had actually happened to Udayan during his last days is maintained till the very end of the novel.

The references made on the rise of the Naxalite movement in Bengal and its impact on common man is apt.

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