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5 of 5 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 8 months ago by leekmuncher

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26 of 28 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 14 months ago by FictionFan


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A distant place, 25 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Lowland (Kindle Edition)
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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26 of 28 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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3 of 3 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
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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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The West is the Best?, 11 Sept. 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of loneliness, 9 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: The Lowland (Kindle Edition)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it in the end, 15 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Lowland (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "People are reacting. Naxalbari is an inspiration. It's an impetus for change.", 24 Oct. 2013
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lowland (Hardcover)
In this well-developed novel of family relationships, which is also a love story and a story of betrayal on several levels, author Jhumpa Lahiri introduces four generations of one family whose history begins in Tollygunge, outside of Calcutta, and then moves off in many different directions before settling finally in Rhode Island. Traveling back and forth in time, with points of view shifting among several different but interrelated characters, the novel creates an impressionistic picture of events which begin in 1967 with a political uprising in India, the family effects of which continue into the present. Two brothers, only fifteen months apart in age, become linchpins of the novel. Subhash, the older, more cautious brother, is far more apt to watch any action, even as a child, than his brother Udayan, the more adventuresome brother, who is always participating in the action and testing limits.

When, in 1967, an uprising in Naxalbari, four hundred miles from Calcutta, presages the beginning of a larger revolution of peasants against wealthy landowners, Udayan sees this as an impetus for wider change as a member of a Soviet-style Marxist organization, and after that, as a member of the Naxalites. While Subhash is studying out of town, Udayan is painting slogans and stimulating revolution, and when he meets Gauri, a philosopher who seems to share his point of view, he suddenly marries her, without seeking permission from his family and foregoing all the usual traditions. When Subhash soon after that receives a telegram to return home to Tollygunge, however, he knows that some family disaster has occurred. Ultimately, he returns to his PhD program in Rhode Island, but this time he is joined by his new bride, pregnant with a child which is not his. The father is his brother, Udayan.

Thematically, the novel considers all aspects of what constitutes a family, what responsibilities of family life can (or should) supersede one's personal desires, and how, if at all, love can flourish under circumstances in which two people decide to adhere to a set of traditions and responsibilities not necessarily of their own choice. "You can't go home again," physically or emotionally, the novel seems to say, at the same time that it also expands on the idea that we are who we are and must accept that. The characters' interactions, responsibilities, and the consequences are particularly fraught as the novel moves through nearly fifty years of personal and social change within one family through several generations, the novel focusing on the academic Subhash and his family in the United States for most of the novel.

Lahiri's prose is often elegant, and her descriptions of settings are perfect for the uses she makes of them. Rhode Island, along the coast, is true-to-life in its damp response to changing seasons and its glorious flourishing of life in the estuaries and marshes. The novel is somewhat less successful in its depictions of some characters, especially those of the mothers, both the mother of Subhash and Udayan and of the mother of Bela, whose career decision appears to be cruel. Because she is not fully developed, her actions are, unfortunately, less understandable to the reader than they might have been. The author does a remarkable job of straddling the line between realism and melodrama on an almost epic scale, however, a saving grace which keeps the reader actively involved and enthusiastic as Subhash and his family develop over three generations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'He had no sense of himself without Udayan. from his earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there.', 3 Jun. 2014
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lowland (Paperback)
The tale of two brothers - cautious Subhash and impetuous younger sibling Udayan - growing up in 1970s Calcutta. As Subhash pursues academic studies in USA, Udayan is getting increasingly caught up in the Maoist Naxalbari movement that is sweeping India...
I found this work very variable in quality. The sections concerning India; the two boys' close relationship as children - and recollections of it in later parts of the book - were absolutely superb. Whereas life in the USA, especially for Bela and Gauri, felt rather weak and 'chick-lit' . The characters didn't seem so convincingly drawn.
But definitely worth reading for the melancholy and touching sections in India in particular.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "They were a family of solitaries", 7 Feb. 2015
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lowland (Kindle Edition)
The story begins in Calcutta in te mid-1950s, and the main characters are two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who were very close in their youth, but whose paths diverge when Subhash went to America to study and eventually to live in Rhode Island, while Udayan became involved with the Naxalite (Maoist) terrorists in West Bengal. When Udayan died, Subhash took pity on his widow Gauri, who was pregnant with Udayan’s child. He married her and took her back to the United States. When the daughter, Bela, was born, he was devoted to her and she grew up thinking that Subhash was her father: she would not be told the truth until she was in her late twenties.

But the ghost of Udayan was ever present. It had a particularly traumatic effect on Gauri, who had married Subhash only to get away from an intolerable situation in Calcutta. She was a distant wife and mother, and when Bela was twelve years old, Gauri deserted her husband and daughter to live in California. Both Subhash and Gauri would for many years live lives without any real relationships: Gauri did not want them; and Subhash found that during her teens and twenties Bela kept her distance from him as much as her mother had done.

It is a sad and melancholic book. There will be some happiness for Subhash and Bela near the end of the book, but for Gauri the end was utterly bleak.

I did not take to the novel in the beginning: too much of the description of the daily lives of Lahiri’s characters, however well-observed, seemed to have nothing to do with the plot. But the book gathers pace and power, and I became really involved with Subhash and Gauri and felt great pity for their loneliness and unhappiness. And Lahiri’s descriptions of the contrasting settings and life-styles in Rhode Island, California and Calcutta are excellent.
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant and mesmerizing, 25 April 2014
By 
Christopher Sullivan (edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Lowland (Paperback)
The Lowland is ponds and paddy fields and what remains of the mangrove swamp that once covered the land before the area of Tollygunge was built on reclaimed land. Reclamation is the fundamental thread that binds the novel together. The reclaiming of one’s life when one has lost control be it through a death, dictatorial cultural conventions, marriage or being a parent.
The novel begins a few years after India’s independence from Great Britain. Tollygunge is located in the southern area of Calcutta, (now referred to as Kolkata), and is home to two brothers, Subhash and the younger by 13 months, Udayan Mitra. The brothers are very close during their childhood and both are high achievers at school and college. However, their personalities are as markedly divergent as the colours of saffron and green on their country’s flag;

“Udayan...was blind to self-constraints, like an animal incapable of perceiving colours. But Subhash strove to minimize his existence, as other animals merged with bark or blades of grass.”

However, their closeness is fractured due to Udayan’s politicization in the aftermath of the Naxalbari uprising in the mid-1960s. His politics are Marxist in colour and through this he makes new friends who are of a similar political hue.
Subhash continues to study and in time leaves India for the state of Rhode Island in America on a fellowship studying Oceanography. Back home in Tollygunge Udayan becomes more deeply involved in his life as a revolutionary and meets a kindred spirit in the shape of Gauri. But Udayan’s revolutionary beliefs belie the reality of his situation;

“Udayan had wanted a revolution, but at home he’d expected to be served; his only contribution to the meals was to sit and wait for Guari or her mother-in-law to put a plate before him.”

Subhash returns to India on the death of his brother and finds a pregnant Gauri living in his parent’s home but being shunned by them. Subhash makes the dramatic and drastic decision to marry his dead brother’s wife, bring the child, Bela, up as his own and return to America with his new family.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel is as large in scale and as brilliant, weighty and mesmerizing as the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Each of the novel’s 406 pages shimmer with delightful prose;

“Once more these colours seemed to have been transported across the world, appearing in the treetops that lined his path. The colours intensified over a period of weeks until the leaves began to dwindle, foliage clustered here and there among the branches, like butterflies feeding at the same source, before falling to the ground.”

It is to the author’s credit that while there is the historical story of India being played out in the novel it is kept in the background and is never forced into the foreground to interrupt the story of Udayan, Gauri and Subhash. Many novels have already used India’s independence (Salman Rushdie’s excellent, Midnight’s Children) and its partition into two states: India and Pakistan (The wonderful Partitions by Amit Majmudar) as hooks as to hang their plots on. Jhumpa Lahiri has intelligently decided to veer away from the obvious and the often ploughed field of allowing a country’s history to drive the plot to the detriment of the novel’s characters.
The characters of Udayan, Gauri and Subhash are beautifully rendered creatures. All three make choices in their lives that are at once selfless and destructive; benign and malignant. These relatable characters will have you the reader going through a gamut of emotions and in particular when Gauri makes a decision that defies all reason, logic and decency. But, we know, though for many chapters we will never admit it, her decision was not only brave but necessary. Importantly the decision was character driven and with hindsight I realised the decision Gauri made was inevitable and I had unconsciously known all along she was going to make that particular decision.
The novel takes us from the late 1940s to the first decade of the 21st century, through the history of India and America. So, using adjectives like sweeping and majestic are inevitable but I make no apology for doing so. The novel’s sweeping nature not only describes its chronological nature but also describes the flow and boundless energy that emanates from each page.
As Sabhash and Gauri grow older they predictable wonder if decisions they made were the correct ones and more importantly if those decisions were possibly less selfless but more selfish. For Subhash, who loves Bela as much as her biological father would have, the strain of wondering if his secret will become known is palpable and heartbreaking.
The Lowland is a novel that deserves the accolade of being on the 2014 shortlist of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and for this reader it would not be a surprise if it won the prize.

First Line – “East of the Tolly Club, after Deshapran Sashmal Road splits in two, there is a small mosque.”

Memorable Line – “Once more the leaves of the trees lost their chlorophyll, replaced by the shades he, (Subhash*), had left behind: vivid hues of cayenne and turmeric and ginger pounded fresh every morning in the kitchen, to season the food his mother prepared.”

*my insertion

Number of Pages - 406
Sex Scenes – yes
Profanity – No
Genre - Fiction
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