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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A distant place
Two brothers, born in Calcutta, live just behind the lowland – two ponds which fill and become one when the rains come. Subhash is studious and obedient, Udayan is a rule-breaker. Their complicit stealing into the private members’ Tolly Club (Udayan’s idea) results in Subhash being beaten. The brothers’ lives take different directions. Subhash...
Published 3 months ago by leekmuncher

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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly average...
Subhash and Udayan are brothers, growing up together in post-independence Calcutta. Subhash is conventional and studious, fully intending to follow the path expected for him by his parents. Udayan is more adventurous and becomes politicised after the brutal suppression of a communist uprising in the small village of Naxalbari. Udayan soon becomes a member of the...
Published 10 months ago by FictionFan


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly average..., 7 Feb 2014
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lowland (Kindle Edition)
Subhash and Udayan are brothers, growing up together in post-independence Calcutta. Subhash is conventional and studious, fully intending to follow the path expected for him by his parents. Udayan is more adventurous and becomes politicised after the brutal suppression of a communist uprising in the small village of Naxalbari. Udayan soon becomes a member of the Naxalites, an offshoot of the Communist Party, which believes in direct action - i.e. terrorism - to achieve its ends. Subhash meantime takes up an opportunity to go to the States to continue his studies in oceanography.

This is where Lahiri makes her first strange choice. Instead of remaining in Calcutta with the charismatic and interesting Udayan, learning more about the Naxalites and the political situation, we are whisked off with the frankly dull-to-the-point-of-catatonia Subhash, and given detailed accounts of the considerably less exciting environment of the campus of a University in Rhode Island, where the most thrilling thing that happens is that Subhash decides not to get involved in Vietnam protests. From there on, we only learn what is happening in India through the occasional letter that Udayan sends, until an incident occurs that makes Subhash return briefly - but only long enough to marry, when he and his new wife return to Rhode Island. The bulk of the remainder of the book is taken up with detailed minutiae about the extremely dull and miserable lives led by Subhash, Gauri and their daughter, Bela. Subhash and Gauri both spend their lives studying and then teaching in Universities so we rarely get off campus and, after an entertaining start, Bela turns into as dull and misery-laden a character as her parents.

I suspect the aim of the book is three-fold: to show the sense of displacement felt by immigrants, to examine the effect of a violent incident on the futures of those affected by it and to look at the moral questions surrounding the use of terrorism as a political tool. The blurb describes it as 'epic', 'achingly poignant' and 'exquisitely empathetic'. It is epic in the sense that it covers a period of 50 years, but geographically and emotionally it remains static for most of that time. The other claims, I'm afraid, would depend on the reader caring about the characters and sadly these characters are not written in a way that induces empathy. Lahiri's second strange choice is to make the book entirely humourless and passionless, with Subhash and Gauri perpetually wallowing in their self-created misery. Each has a successful career, but neither seems able to form real relationships - not even with each other.

The writing is completely flat, and so is the story; no passion, no light and no real dark - just greyness, like living under permanent cloud-cover. On the rare occasions that Lahiri discusses the politics of the Naxalites, she does so in a way that reads like a textbook or a Wikipedia article, which means that there is no depth or humanity to it. The old saw of 'show, don't tell' was constantly running thorough my mind at these points. The moral questions around terrorism are only discussed at the end of the book, in a very superficial and throwaway manner. The implication is that these characters were damaged by Udayan's actions, but we are given nothing to make us believe they were significantly different people before. In fact, it is very clear that Subhash in particular lacks passion and humour before the life-changing incident just as much as after.

For a plot that promises so much, the book fails to deliver. Competently written rather than beautifully, I find it hard to understand why this book was shortlisted for the Booker. If this is really one of the best books being produced in the Commonwealth, it goes some way to explaining why the Booker is being opened up to the rest of the world. But I suspect it was shortlisted for the author's reputation and the 'worthiness' of the message rather than for any real qualities of writing or story-telling. A disappointingly average read that I didn't feel gave me an adequate return on the time I invested in it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A distant place, 25 Aug 2014
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Two brothers, born in Calcutta, live just behind the lowland – two ponds which fill and become one when the rains come. Subhash is studious and obedient, Udayan is a rule-breaker. Their complicit stealing into the private members’ Tolly Club (Udayan’s idea) results in Subhash being beaten. The brothers’ lives take different directions. Subhash takes up a scholarship in Rhode Island. Udayan, politicised and passionate, becomes involved with the Naxalite movement.

Without giving away spoilers, this is a book about absences. Brothers separated, a husband replaced, a mother abandoning a child. Ghosts loom large and the presence of some of the living is ethereal. Lahiri weaves a tale of loss and identity, secrets and guilt. The whole truth and the weight it bears on the characters is only fully uncovered towards the end.

I found the depiction of place powerful – a house, a wasteland, a terrace, a path – each holds far greater meaning when loaded with emotional identification. Small wonder our youngest character rejects roots and becomes transient, working the land, shifting with the seasons, forming and losing groups, but always moving.

However, for me, this book felt distanced and removed. I actually wished for a little dialogue, allowing me to interpret the behaviour and motivations of the key players, rather than reported actions and emotions. The ice creep of disintegrating marriages, withdrawal of affection and a gradual loss of sanity are not easy subjects to address as they lack drama. Yet as truths of life, they do require engagement.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The West is the Best?, 11 Sep 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lowland (Kindle Edition)
The Lowland is a flat area of marshland next to the settlement of Tollygunge in Calcutta. Tollygunge houses a golf course and, even after independence, is well patrolled to keep the locals out. This symbol of colonial power is the catalyst to inspire brothers Udayan and Subhash to join the dangerous world of Indian-Maoist Marxism.

But, as time passes, the brothers mature. Subhash takes up a study scholarship at a university in Rhode Island whilst Udayan stays loyal to the cause. This parting of the ways is deeply symbolic of the crossroads at which India found istelf in the 1960s and 1970s - whether to look to the east or the west for its politics and its economy. For a long while, it was not clear which would prevail, even as India seemed to choose the west there were regrets and hints of reconsidering. There were turbulent times in which leaders were assassinated whilst the economy stagnated. The Lowland offers this drama in an exquisite and extended metaphor. Just as in Midnight's Children, we see wrong choices being made and opportunities lost. We see the grind and monotony of following the respectable path in Rhode Island whilst the history of India is out of sight and out of mind.

What maked The Lowland special, though, is the perfect writing that allows characters to feel real and complex; situations to feel three dimensional. Subhash and, particularly, Gauri have nuanced shades of light and dark. And there is no temptation to match morality to outcomes; both characters are well intentioned, thoughtful people but they end up hurting one another and hurting others without effort. They are caught in a web of their own making and the more they struggle to free themselves, the more ensnared they become. As the novel progresses, we start to see more of the backstory and understand more about how Subhash and Gauri came to make the choices they did, how they came to be the people they are. In particular, we start to learn more about how they each relate to Udayan. We see different points of view; we spend time with the older generation, and also with the new. This passing of the generations is done with sadness and poignancy. But as each generation loses the fire in its belly, so the next generation represents a fresh hope, as will the generation after that...

The depiction of places is also genuine; Calcutta is a city of bustle, airports, railway stations and history. The clothes are bright and the food is rich. It is refreshing to visit India and not be immediately sent to the slums. Rhode Island, by contrast, is cold and sterile, safe but bland. But for all that, it never feels less real.

There is not a word out of place in The Lowland, not a line that causes the reader to stumble. It is an engrossing and complex story that works on many levels. It is moving, it is frustrating, but it is always meaningful. Shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize, it will be interesting to see whether it can take the crown.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful story about willful exile and return, about the hard times and the destinies of which you'll think long after, 4 Mar 2014
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lowland (Hardcover)
"The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri is story about two brothers, Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who were born and grew up in India.
Although they were always together when they were kids, their future will be completely different due to the choices they made.
When turbulent times of 1960s for India came, Udayan will choose to become politically active while the other brother Subhash will decide to go to America in a search for a better and calmer life of a scientist.
Udayan will join rebellious Naxalite movement and when tragedy will occur, his brother will return from America to find out the truth what happened to his brother and to try to help the people he left behind, mostly to his wife...

"The Lowland" is a good novel that takes place both in India and U.S., describing events in second half of 20th century that changed India, looking through the fate of two brothers who choose different paths in their lives and in some way due to that both would be punished.
The story is written in suspenseful although kind of intimate manner and manages to tell reader a story about not only these two characters and time in which they're living in, but also about the past generations that built Indian society making it so specific in relation to the whole world.

This is a story about willful exile and return, about strong desire to move away from the turbulent events that threaten to destroy you, but as far as running away to the other end of the world, some things that are irresistible like love, family and devotion will pull you back.
Covering the events that are lasting over half a century this is a story about the tragedies that forever changed lives of several generations who became haunted by the past.

This is the first book I read from Jhumpa Lahiri, and she managed to write powerful but emotional piece, that despite the primary sense of sadness that leaves to reader manages to arouse hope.

"The Lowland" is good book that must be read, an intimate story about the hard times and the destinies of which you'll think long after you read it.
Due to that I can fully recommend it all readers who are seeking for some powerful book to fill their heart and mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it in the end, 15 Aug 2014
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I read to almost page 200 before I started to enjoy this highly rated novel. The early scenes of life in Calcutta were flat and dull and overloaded with the sort of detail that clutters rather than defines. The brothers were neither very engaging and as their lives diverged it was hard to care much what happened to either of them.
The political backdrop was equally flat. It informed as a history book might but didn't paint a vivid picture of what was happening at this time as communists tried to initiate a revolution.
When Subhash moves to the US things were equally flat and dreary but I plodded on dutifully reading of his miserable marriage and lonely life.
I started to enjoy the book when I realised the subtlety of the ending - the obvious stuff was there in spades- like past deeds inform the present and shape the future, and violence is never justified and new beginnings can only be made after a painful encounter with the reality of the past. But there was also something more subtle and touching in the relationships between the grim survivors as they reach a level of understanding despite the pain. Something new was built on the wreck of the past.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Man Hands on Misery to Man, 25 Oct 2014
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Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013; The Lowland screams of literary ambition from its first page. Having written a densely-textured, rather mournful novel, Jhumpa Lahiri eschews drama and spectacle here in favour of complex characterisation and layered meaning. I consequently found her effort easier to admire than enjoy.

We kick off in Calcutta in the mid twentieth century; an elegiac period shortly before decolonisation and the bloody struggle of Partition. Subhash and Udayan are brothers born to a middle-class family who grow up alongside the titular marshland. The novel soon follows Subhash on a scholarship to Rhode Island, distancing itself weirdly from the central events of the novel, which occur early on. It is no spoiler to say that Udayan's embroilment with India's Naxalite communist rebellion does not end well; the resulting trauma is one from which his whole family spend the rest of the novel failing to recover from.

Readers expecting an epic set against the backdrop of post-independence India will thus find themselves disappointed after The Lowland's first hundred pages or so. The rest of the novel's considerable bulk concerns itself with Subhash, Gauri, their daughter Bela, and their unhappy life in the States. Subhash's youth is portrayed as willfully dull; the tumult of the US in the 60's and 70's entirely passes him by. Instead, we are privy to the struggle of a first generation immigrant to find a place in an unfamiliar society. After he is joined by Gauri, it was with growing dismay that I realised The Lowland is a tale of domestic unhappiness; a slow accumulation of resentments and grievances, of fundamentally decent people hurting one another despite their best intentions.

Lahiri's style is measured, and moving at times. Yet her miserable characters combine with her rather sombre prose - entirely devoid of wit, passion, and even dialogue for long stretches - to create an oppressive atmosphere. The Lowland is confined in large part to the campus of Rhode Island, and - whilst Calcutta is vividly portrayed - its other sojourns from the comfort zone of Western domesticity do not convince. Depictions of Udayan's Naxalite intrigues and Bela's nomadic, freegan existence, for instance, had potential to inject life and interest into The Lowland, but are so vaguely and briefly sketched that they end up feeling tacked-on.

What one is left with is a meditation on family life and a harsh lesson in man handing on misery to man. If you are after a well-written and moving literary drama, with complex characters and a dense subtext, you could do much worse than The Lowland. If - like me - you were hoping for a livelier book with less well-charted themes, they may find The Lowland po-faced and, frankly, a little boring.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read, 10 Oct 2013
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Found the beginning difficult with political names hard to remember,but after the fist few chapters,the story off in epic stlye/The main characters were well developed and the twists and turns of the story kept me turning the pages with eager anticipation.I have already recommended this to friends,and hope it wins the Booker prize
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting story, superficial at the start, which did draw me in eventually, 18 Oct 2013
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At the beginning, I felt that the story was too superficial. It aims I think to give a global view of changes and spans the whole lifetimes of its protatgonist, and I felt that I was too distanced from them, not drawn in enough to their lives. There is the backdrop of violence in India and insurgencies, but again, these felt more like a décor, than anything really substantial. It is also a book about the personal, about Gauri's decisions and how they affect her family. I felt this was a true description, and it awakened real, not always positive, emotions in me.
In the end, this novel was successful for me, but I think most of that was thanks to the affections I felt for Subhash, the hero. I cared for him and wanting to know what happened to him carried me through to the end.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 11 Jan 2014
By 
Ian Hobbs (UK) - See all my reviews
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Whilst the book is doubtless well-constructed, I found it lacking in emotion. Perhaps the detached style was deliberate to convey the disconnect between the lives that are revealed to us but it diminished my engagement with the narrative. I enjoyed the Namesake more, but I also felt that there were echoes of the same themes. Overall, I was left untouched by it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of loneliness, 9 Jun 2014
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My father was born and raised in India, moving to Britain in the 1950s. I didn't know much about India and what I learned tended to be filtered through British perceptions of what it was like for those Europeans and "Eurasians" who had to decide what to do after independence. Because of my experience of Indians, Pakistanis and others migrating to the uK, Indians choosing to migrate to the USA is a relatively new concept for me.
Life after independence in India is something I have been oblivious to. I learned something about it from "The Lowland" and my curiosity has been piqued.
Aside from the history lesson, I enjoyed "The Lowland" immensely. Most of the characters struck me as lonely people, isolated by their experiences and in their relationships until they learn to accept themselves. The loneliest of them all was Gauri.
I liked the various beginnings (eg., the opening chapter, the start of new lives in new locations), the changing chronology and the precise language. What was missing perhaps was any observations on racism and the isolation arising from being a member of an ethnic minority that would surely have exacerbated Subhash's and Gauri's loneliness in the US.
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The Lowland
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Hardcover - 8 Sep 2013)
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