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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Lowland
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on 3 April 2016
The key character linking Jhumpa Lahiri’s story together is Gauri. As a young student in Calcutta, she allows her romance with Udayan to draw her into complicity with Naxalite terrorist action. She leans on his brother Subhash to extricate her to the US and raise her daughter. Her only conviction in life is academic philosophy, which she follows indiscriminately, seemingly unaware of any moral philosophy, carelessly causing huge pain for others.

Yet Lahiri never takes us sufficiently deeply to understand Gauri. She is just a whirlwind of the acts she commits. Much of the book is taken up with Subhash and Bela’s mundane banal life in Rhode Island. The sections covering life in Calcutta are more moving. Lahiri’s descriptive prose is rich, verging on the poetic. She eventually rescues the story by re-introducing Gauri. We hope to find out what drives and motivates her, and this does create suspense, but we end up only getting more capricious actions. The only hint is that her life is curtailed by an overwhelming guilt, and therefore not fully lived.

Neel Mukherjee (The Lives of Others) offers deeper insight into the Naxalite movement, its appeal to middle class Bengali young men, and its strain on family ties. Lahiri continues to focus on the US Bengali diaspora, which inevitably becomes mundane.
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on 5 July 2015
This is by far one of my all favourite novels of all time. I loved it so much that actually after finishing, I have re-read some passages many, many times, so all in all I must have read the whole book at least 5 times.
Jhumpa Lahiri has got a beautiful, personal style of writing. I enjoyed all her other works as well.
Lowland is above all a novel dealing with relationships, with characters who lack the skill (or will, or both) of communicating somehow end up drifting apart and hurting each other. Udayan and Subhash are brothers growing up during turbulent times in India. Brave, idealistic Udayan calls for revolution and gets involved in politics, quiet Subhash wants to leave his younger brother's shadow and go to America to study for a PhD programme. Upon returning to India, Subhash finds his family changed and faced a difficult choice which will bind him even more with his brother.
I do not want to write too much about the plot not to spoil it for everyone. The story evolves around various themes (one's cultural identity, the silent rebellion and breaking up with tradition, personal happiness versus obligation towards family). There is something utterly tragic about some of the choices the characters make, and sometimes they realise too late what they have done.
As I said, there are bits that I go back to particularly often, for example the conversation between Gauri (Subhash's wife) and her daughter Bela towards the end of the novel, it is so powerful and made a huge impression on me. There are earls like this throughout Lowland, and I am sure I will keep on coming back to it. many times more.
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on 22 January 2016
Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland begins with an intriguing storyline, revolving around the Marxist-inspired Naxalite rebellion in 1960s Bengal, where students chose to join by violent means the cause of desperately poor peasants in that region of India. Subhash and Udayan, the sons of a Calcutta civil servant, are very close to one another. Udayan, though, is attracted to the Naxalite movement while Subhash chooses to go complete his studies in the USA. This is where the plot gets somewhat sidetracked. I don’t want to reveal too much, but Subhash ends up marrying Udayan’s girl and raising his child. The Naxalite plotline gets more or less dropped, and the story ends up dealing with the difficulties of integration and the estrangement of diaspora Indians. This is familiar territory for Lahiri, and I guess this is what she likes to write about. But the novel, which then moves down another generation again, ends up losing a common thread. Lahiri writes well, of course, but this is not up to, say, The Namesake, and the feeling is that she has written this story before. Nor does the tone vary very much. It is constantly wistful and lightly sad, with the result that the book often fails to engage the reader. Pursing the Naxalite storyline, one can’t help thinking, would have been more fruitful, more filled with potential tension and with strong, emotional choices for the characters. The Lowland is readable throughout, but it ends up feeling as something of a letdown.
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on 12 March 2014
'Plato says the purpose of philosophy is to teach us how to die. There's nothing to learn unless we're living. In death we're equal. It has that advantage over life,' so says philosophy student Gauri who falls for idealistic, rebel Udayan. Udayan is the brother of Subhash, and as children in 1960s Calcutta, they are inseparable. But as the children grow, Udayan is drawn into a Maoist political movement, the Naxalite that tries (and ultimately fails) to take on India's post-independence government.
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.
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on 23 February 2018
I read it but wouldn't recommend it to anyone. I was quite disappointed with this story. It left me feeling very empty -- I had spent all this time with these characters and still didn't really care for them. It's a strange narrative and I wonder why the writer chose to tell the story in this way.
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on 14 February 2015
I am a great fan of Jhumpa Lahiri. I simple love reading her prose, the words she uses and the sentences she constructs.The emotions she evokes when she describes places - whether in USA or India - or how her characters react, behave and feel in such environment. She has such an immense understanding and empathy for the soul of the migrant soul. I read every single book she publishes with great pleasure. The Lowland is not her best in my opinion but I still couldn't put it down.
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on 7 June 2014
I didn't think I'd like this at first. Big family sagas are not usually my sort of thing, but there's something very different about this one. All the characters are flawed in some way; damaged, frightened or selfish. Yet they're all utterly believable and I wanted to know what happened to them all. I also enjoyed the way the narrative wasn't as simple as it first seemed, with elements of the past gradually revealed as time goes by. The only thing I wasn't crazy about was that the metaphors were a little over-written and heavily signposted. But otherwise very enjoyable - keep me pondering long after I'd turned the last page.
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on 19 December 2015
A very satisfying and full-textured story. I was a student in Calcutta during the unforgettable time of the Naxalite domination and can vouch for the authenticity of the events and the emotions aroused by them. The fictional additions -- the actual story of the lives of the characters -- sit well in this context and then move off into the United States and the lives of the following generation: these too seem completely true to life and absorbingly interesting.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 January 2015
Set in India and the United States this is an interesting novel and reflection on life. It is the tale of two brothers who lives take very different paths following a very close childhood. There is a melancholy throughout the tale which has much to do with the choices we make in life - sometimes from seizing the moment, sometimes from failing to do so.

It is a very readable story, beautifully written, though rather sad
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on 15 June 2014
I loved this book but I am maybe a little biased because I am a big Jhumpa Lahiri fan to begin with. I have loved all her books, both the novels and short stories. The Namesake would also be in my top 5 favourite books of all time too. Jhumpa Lahiri writes beautifully and you feel you are there with the characters and that you understand their actions, even the complicated Gauri who makes such a big, unthinkable decision. It is a sad book in a lot of ways but not sentimental at all. I recommend this book and all Jhumpa Lahiri's books!
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