The Lowland Hardcover – 8 Sep 2013
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A domestic epic that manages to combine the personal and intimate with the political and the public superbly well (Harry Ritchie Daily Mail)
Sublimely brilliant (Esther Freud)
She has an extraordinary power of empathy for her characters and a steady hand for unspooling the knotted threads of their individual motives and histories
An author, at the height of her artistry, spins the globe and comes full circle (Vogue)
Profound … real and convincing. The characters don’t act like people in a novel: they are much closer to real life in their responses, their heartfelt cries of pain
(Eileen Battersby Irish Times)
A sweeping, ambitious story... There is no doubt that The Lowland confirms Lahiri as a writer of formidable powers and a great depth of feeling
She observes the small moments of adapting to a new country particularly beautifully… Cool, measured and beguiling writing
Poignant story and epic sweep
Elegant and thoughtful
Jhumpa Lahiri is an elegant stylist, effortlessly placing the perfect words in the perfect order time and again so we’re transported seamlessly into another place ... Every family story is somehow a war story; Lahiri has a talent for coolly illustrating this truth (Vanity Fair)
Such is the strength, individuality and vividness of Lahiri’s characters, that it’s a loss when their voices finally fall silent (Rachel Hore Independent on Sunday)
Hypnotic ... An excellent example of the art of fiction (Bharat Tandon Daily Telegraph)
[An] immaculately constructed and a model of lucidity, well deserving of its place on the Man Booker shortlist (Mail on Sunday)
A domestic epic that superbly combines the personal and intimate with the political and public (Irish Mail on Sunday)
Moving, surprising and utterly compelling ... It’s as beautiful as anything you will ever read – it touches your soul ... We’re not surprised that Lahiri’s work has made the Man Booker shortlist – it certainly gets our vote here ( Stylist)
Thrillingly nuanced ... Lahiri’s most ambitious work to date, brimming with pain and love and all of life’s profound beauty ( O, The Oprah Magazine)
Epic in sweep, especially when combined with the laden, potent themes, the intertwining of politics and sexuality, the cauterizing of emotional wounds and grievances, and the repetition of places and personalities ... Ms Lahiri's prose hums along as efficiently as a well-tuned engine, showing us the melancholy beauty of coastal New England; the surreal perceptions of an immigrant ... And the tension between generations (Siddhartha Deb International Herald Tribune)
An important novel for Lahiri to have written (Robert McCrum Observer)
This is the sort of domestic epic that manages to combine the personal and intimate with the political and public superbly well (Harry Ritchie Daily mail)
Jhumpa Lahiri is intelligent, astute, informed and genuine … The Lowland is real. Its emotional intelligence is extraordinarily persuasive, as is the calm, quietly intense Lahiri (Eileen Battersby Irish Times)
Lahiri writes with great emotional precision (Anjali Joseph The Times)
Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution: the most powerful and ambitious novel yet from the Pulitzer Prize-winning, multi-million copy bestselling author of The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth
Top customer reviews
Like so many of those who are drawn to political causes, all Udayan can do is be in the moment and fight for his beliefs. He is too young and self-righteous to see how his actions will impact on those around him and puts his politics before his family – as so many radicalised young men do. The Lowland examines the long term impact on one ordinary family, left behind to pick up the pieces when the freedom fight is stopped in its tracks.
Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer for her short story collection, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES and THE LOWLAND is only her second novel. THE LOWLAND was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and once again revisits a familiar theme, of the sense of disconnection and alienation felt by those, in this case Bengalis, who make a new life in the West.
The story is set in Tollygunge Calcutta and Rhode Island (described in loving detail that it comes as no surprise that Lahiri grew up there). It is told from three different points of view – Subhash, Udayan's brother who chooses to leave his homeland behind and travels to America to further his career; from Gauri, the quiet, bookish girl who married Udayan, and finally from the point of view of Udayan himself.
The hardest character to fathom is Gauri as although she has moved to the West, like many migrants, she cherry picks the best of the new country, but her heart and soul remains firmly stuck in her old culture. She seems incapable of addressing her emotional problems, preferring to transfer all her passive energy into an education and an academic career while at the same time being unable to parent her daughter Bela and to take care of her emotional needs. Then there is Subhash, who chose to take Gauri with him to America to offer her a new life abroad, but whom Gauri also rejects because he is no substitute for Udayan.
At times, the story is as grey as the pebbles on those Rhode Island beaches Lahiri describes so well. And Lahiri does at least give us some hope for these characters, allowing Subhash happiness in later life and for Gauri there is a glimmer of hope that there may be some sort of redemption. It's just a shame that Gauri's philosophical beliefs were, for too long skewed towards the dying and not the living. But despite my slight irritation with Gauri, The Lowland is so beautifully written and ultimately gripping that it was hard to put down.
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.”
Number of Pages - 406
Sex Scenes – yes
Profanity – No
Genre - Fiction
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