All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

on August 2, 2019

The Lowland
Jhumpa Lahiri
Bloomsbury ANZ
2013, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. 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, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that inelucably define who we are.

Jhumpa Lahiri is one of those authors I’ve always meant to read. I actually received this for review when I was wanting to read books from the 2013 Man Booker longlist (I think) but the best laid plans often go astray and I’m only just reading it now. I picked it up specifically because I’ve slacked off a lot on my Reading Women challenge in the past couple months and I decided I needed to pick it up a bit. I don’t think I’m going to finish all 26 of the prompts because there are 2-3 of them that I just feel that I am stumped on or am unlikely to find something to work for it. But I’m trying to complete as many as I can and to also read a separate book for each prompt, instead of counting several for the same prompt.

I know almost nothing about India. I’ve never studied their history, nor have I read much set there. What I have read seems to be pretty limited to Victorian-era British colonisation with mostly rich Birtish expats in positions of power enjoying a bit of warm weather. For example, I wasn’t at all aware of the Naxalites until I read this book, a political organisation of far-left radicals inspired by Chairman Mao of China. This book is set in and around the time of the rise of Naxalites, which main character Subhash’s brother Udayan becomes involved in.

The book begins in Subhash and Udayan’s childhood, their striving for good marks, university degrees, things that will please their parents. Subhas and Udayan were inseparable as children, studying, playing, schooling together, being less than 2yrs apart in age. As they reach adulthood though and attend different universities and study different things, there seems to be a growing divide between the two of them. Subhash also decides to move to America to further his studies and it’s while he’s overseas, he realises just how deeply Udayan has become entrenched in the Naxalite movement. When tragedy strikes, Subhas makes the ultimate sacrifice, which changes his life forever.

This was a really interesting book. It’s my first Lahiri so I really have no benchmark but she’s a very admired voice – enough to have a whole category dedicated to her in the Reading Women challenge! This book covers a lot, from Subhash and Udayan’s childhood to his journey studying overseas at the time of the Vietnam war as one of very few Indians in that part of America, the relationship he has with various members of his family and how that changes with Udayan’s involvement in the Naxalite movement. There are several narrators (others I don’t want to mention, because it will spoil the direction that the novel takes) but it deals with a few generations over a lot of years.

I always find books that tackle motherhood in different ways quite interesting to read. Motherhood is a very complex thing and so many books portray it as this moment of instant wonder and if that happens, that’s great. But a lot of people don’t really find it to be that way and for some, that moment of connection can never come. It can be a burden, the wrong choice, something that they just don’t connect with. And the emotions revolving around just reading that can be complex too because children are innocent and they didn’t ask to be born. They exist because two people created them. The way that people behave can be so damaging to children psychologically and it doesn’t even have to be physical or emotional abuse to be traumatising. A child can grow up in a safe and comfortable environment and yet still be isolated, rejected and feel like they don’t belong or aren’t wanted. There is a child in this book that is deeply scarred by their mother’s actions, her distance during childhood and then the fact that she vanishes completely (by choice) in their pre-adolescence. Those years are so formative and these deep scars manifest in so many ways much later on in that child’s life.

There’s a lot of sacrifice in this book. Different types of sacrifice too. Political, familial, love, happiness, ones sense of self, etc. There’s also a lot about duty. Subhash desires very much to be a good son and yet it seems that in some ways, he can never quite measure up, despite everything he’s worked hard to achieve. He also makes decisions that cost him personally in order to do the right thing, to protect people and perhaps there’s a tiny bit of selfishness in there too. He gets rewarded in one way but his decision costs him dearly in another.

I really enjoyed this. I felt that for someone like me, it gave a lot of Indian cultural background about families and customs and expectations as well as some political history. The relationships were intricate and the plot went in some unexpected directions. I enjoyed Subhash’s experience as an Indian student in America in a time and place where there were few as well as Gauri’s desire for further education and how it conflicted with the cards life had dealt her. Even though I didn’t agree with a lot of her choices, I actually found that I understood some of them.

Definitely going to read more Jhumpa Lahiri.

8/10

Book #115 of 2019

This covers bonus prompt 2 of the Reading Women Challenge – Book by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s the 9th prompt I’ve completed for the challenge. Still need to lift my game a bit so I’ve been going back to the prompts and looking at books I have and what I can make work. I’ve requested a couple from my local library for a few prompts where I don’t have anything that fits. Some of the categories like series, romance/love story etc I have a lot of options. I’m pretty confident I can get most completed by the end of the year. The ones that are really going to trouble me is prompt 14 and prompt 8.


2 responses to “Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. kloydecaday says:

    Hey, thanks for this. I love Jhumpa Lahiri so much and I am here at my room, celebrating the 20th birthday of Interpreter of Maladies. I am happy to find book lovers here in WordPress, and if you may, I would appreciate it if you follow me and discuss about our favorite books on my comments section. Here is the link of my reflection on Interpreter of Maladies:
    https://kloydecaday.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/happy-20th-birthday-interpreter-of-maladies/

  2. […] Book by Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. My review. […]

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