All of Jhumpa Lahiri’s fiction deals with the immigrant experience, from India to (most often) the northeastern United States, and The Lowland is no exception. This time, though, the reader gets a lesson in Indian history along with a compelling family story.
The main characters are two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who grow up in a quiet middle class neighborhood in 1960s Calcutta. Emotionally very close, but completely different in temperament, both do well in school. Udayan gets involved with the Naxalite movement (a Maoist political faction that I’d never heard of till I read this book); Subhash is less political, but decides to move to America, after getting roped into a few marginal activities of the movement by Udayan. From this point on, the brothers only communicate by writing letters. Since Udayan is less than forthcoming in his communication with his brother, the two become estranged. Here, Subhash learns that his brother has married the sister of a fellow student:
Not only had Udayan married before Subhash, but he’d married a woman of his choosing. On his own he’d taken a step that Subhash believed was their parents’ place to decide. Here was another example of Udayan forging ahead of Subhash, of denying that he’d come second. Another example of getting his way.
The back of the photograph was dated in Udayan’s handwriting. It was from over a year ago, 1968. Udayan had gotten to know her and fallen in love with her while Subhash was still in Calcutta. All that time, Udayan had kept Gauri to himself.
Though I usually need a dose of humor to get through a story with this much sadness in it, I found this novel very absorbing, despite its darkness. In a recent NPR interview, Lahiri says that she feels that this novel is the one she has been trying to write from the beginning. It will be interesting to see what themes she tackles next.
author photo: Marco Delogu