The lowland : a novel

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Paper Book, 2013




New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.


Fiction. Literature. HTML: National Book Award Finalist Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of The Namesake comes an extraordinary new novel, set in both India and America, that expands the scope and range of one of our most dazzling storytellers: a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death. Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. It is the 1960s, and 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. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother's political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America. But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family's home, he goes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind--including those seared in the heart of his brother's wife. Masterly suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a work of great beauty and complex emotion; an engrossing family saga and a story steeped in history that spans generations and geographies with seamless authenticity. It is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers. This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide..… (more)

Media reviews

The Lowland is a novel about the rashness of youth, as well as the hesitation and regret that can make a long life not worth living.
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Darkly hued fiction is commonplace in contemporary writing, but The Lowlands is sombre in a distinctly old-fashioned way; it’s not late-stage capitalism and/or environmental collapse that generate the misery in the novel, but rather that quaint concept of fate, or at least character-as-fate.
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Which is one reason why contemporary readers might balk at this story, its position on the shortlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize notwithstanding. These lives seem rigged.
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There is real story bravery at work here. It would have been much easier for Lahiri to keep us in the thrust and heave of political agitation — to fixate, perhaps, on the implied betrayal woven into Subhash’s rescue. Instead, in “The Lowland,” Lahiri tells a quietly devastating story about
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the nature of kindness. How it is never pure and often goes largely unrewarded. It simply is, and then the floodwaters rise and obscure its role in the landscape for a time.
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Her prose, as always, is a miracle of delicate strength, like those threads of spider silk that, wound together, are somehow stronger than steel.... Although writing this fine is easy to praise, it’s not always easy to enjoy. And there’s something naggingly synthetic about this tableau of woe.
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“They were a family of solitaries,” Lahiri writes. “They had collided and dispersed.” But real people are not such shiny billiard balls of sorrow. I couldn’t shake the impression that Subhash and Gauri are being subjected to the author’s insistence on creating a certain sustained effect, as though they were characters in a fable. The years pass like the pages of a calendar being blown between scenes of a silent movie. Every time we catch up with this sad couple, they seem not to have changed at all, except that the plaque of guilt and secrecy has grown thicker. The ordinary complications of daily life do not dilute their desolation or complicate their lives. Gauri spends decades studying philosophy, but somehow the world’s accumulated wisdom never offers her any solace or disruption or insight. She might as well have been studying accounting or geology. Perhaps these are petty complaints about a book that’s written with such poignancy. If parts of “The Lowland” feel static, it’s also true that Lahiri can accelerate the passage of time in moments of terror with mesmerizing effect.
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Lahiri has an uncanny ability to control and mold sentences and action, imbuing the characters with dignity and restraint. But for me, this was also the novel's weakness; too often the narration felt cold, almost clinical, leaving me longing for a moment of thaw. I felt ambivalent. It's an
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intelligently structured book and while the tone and the pace rarely vary, the reader is always sure she is in the hands of a writer of integrity and skill. Yet I still yearned to know more about these people, especially Gauri.... Lahiri is an accomplished writer and though I felt, at times, disappointed, in the end I was sure that there is an important truth here — that life often denies us understanding, and sometimes all there is to hold on to is our ability to endure.
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A finely pitched meditation on various modes of distance and affinity, the novel achieves both a distillation of the concerns of earlier works such as Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, and a significant stylistic advance on them.... Belonging and alienation, place and displacement: these
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have long been Lahiri’s abiding fictional concerns, but in The Lowland, they are more alive than before, in the very shapes of her sentences.
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As a minor character, or as a full-on study in cruelty, Gauri might have been interesting. If there were an ounce of irony or humour in her portrayal, or of unabashed wickedness in her spirit, she might have been fascinating to follow. But her depiction is relentlessly solemn and insistently –
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actually infuriatingly – compassionate. While acknowledging the brutality of her deeds, Lahiri also wants to enlist our sympathy for Gauri as a person of tragic emotional integrity. She charts her lonely intellectual progress with a scrupulousness that seems intended to confer a kind of martyred dignity upon her, though to me it just intensifies the unpleasant effect of pious sadism that emanates from the book whenever she appears.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
Jhumpa Lahiri returns to a familiar topic in her long-awaited novel The Lowland: the cultural and familial angst of the transplanted Indian. The story begins in Tollygunge, outside of Calcutta, in the 1960s. Two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, are so close and so much alike that they might be twins.
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Both seem to have bright futures ahead of them as they enroll in universities, but here their lives take different paths. Subhash, the dutiful son, excels and earns a scholarship to continue his oceanography studies in the United States; Udayan gets caught up in an idealistic but radical movement to overthrow the Indian government. After his involvement in bombmaking and the murder of a policemen, Udayan meets his death in the lowland, the site of happier times for the brothers, in full view of his family.

It is this tragedy, and the decisions made in its wake, that change the lives of three generations. I hesitate to say more--I hate reviews that give too much away. Suffice it to say that there are devastating repercussions for the aging parents, who have lost one son to death and another to immigration; for Subhash, who makes a sacrifice out of love for his brother that brings him both the greatest joy of his life and the greatest pain; and for the third generation daughter, Bela, who suffers the consequences of so many secrets.

As to be expected, Lahiri's writing itself is exquisite. The narrative shifts among the various characters, giving voice to the internal thoughts and feelings of each. As a reader, I found it difficult to identify or empathize with any of them, except perhaps Subhash. This was, I think, because each of them is so emotionally isolated from the others that they come across as self-absorbed, uncaring, and distant. Yet I can't claim this entirely as a flaw: if Lahiri's intention was to show the deep and far-reaching damage that trauma and betrayal inflict on individuals and even generations, she has certainly succeeded.

Overall, an admirable work, although I may not be quite as enthusiastic as the pre-publication reviewers and prize committees. I may have to agree with the handful who feel that Lahiri may be at her best in the short story genre. Still, I look forward to her next novel. And this one may even deserve a second reading.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2013, Random House Audio, Read by Sunil Mahotra

“They were a family of solitaries. They had collided and dispersed.” (262)

In 1960s Calcutta, ten years after the Partition, brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra are coming of age. Subhash is older by fifteen months, but he has no sense of himself
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without his brother. Udayan is the daring one, scornful of convention, and dedicated to politics. He is drawn to the Naxalite radicals, a guerilla movement against inequality and poverty. While he remains in India and studies physics, Subhash emigrates to the United States to pursue a doctorate in chemical engineering. Quiet, conventional, and traditional, he is happy in his studies and secures employment post-graduation at the University of Rhode Island. Back in Calcutta, Udayan has married Gauri, a brilliant academic, and the two live with his parents. Udayan’s continued association with the Naxalites implicates Gauri in the violence of the movement. Revolutionary violence, she will learn, feels justified, even humane; but it is a disillusioned humanity which cannot be sustained. Not surprisingly, Udayan meets a tragic end. And Subhash, always honourable and conventional, returns to Calucutta for his parents and for Gauri. Together, he and Gauri will move to Rhode Island, where they raise Bela – but they are a “family of solitaries.” And, almost inevitably, they will disperse in a manner as disturbing as that in which they collided.

The Lowland is my first Lahiri novel. Not surprisingly, her award-winning prose is lovely – so elegant. Without sentimentalizing, she writes compellingly of home and homeland, culture, identity, tradition, and family. Narrator Sunil Mohotra’s beautiful dialect is perfect! Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
I think I liked this book. I kept turning the pages anyway. But I should have loved it. I mean we’re talking about Jhumpa Lahiri. She won the Pulitzer. This book is nominated for both the National Book Award and the Man Booker Prize. And yet….something was missing. I only marked two passages in
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the whole book. Where was her trademark salubrious prose? The characters were, I don’t know, flat and mostly dispassionate. Which is pretty amazing considering the heavy, serious subject matter Lahiri chose to highlight. Let’s just say the book could have been entitled Novel for Miserable Mothers.

Subhash and his brother, Udayan, born fifteen months apart, spend their early years in Calcutta, being mistaken for each other. But, in fact, they are very different and soon go their separate ways. In the late 60s, Udayan gets involved with the Naxalite movement, a rebellion that wanted to address inequality and poverty. Subhash, on the other hand, chose to leave Calcutta and lead a quiet life of scientific research in Rhode Island. But when his brother is killed by police, Subhash returns and decides it is his duty to marry his brother’s bride, Gauri, who is pregnant. But Gauri turns out to be miserable as a mother and Subhash is the nurturing parent to their daughter, Bela until Gauri does the most reprehensible thing a mother could do.

I think the problem is that the sweeping epic got away from Lahiri. She just tried to do too much. She created a totally unlikable character in Gauri, and then, at the end, tried to make her into someone we would sympathize with. I’m sorry, that won’t work. Gauri is not just unlikeable. She’s completely selfish as well and I’m not going to sympathize with her at all.

So why do I think I liked this book? I’m not exactly sure but it was suspenseful in spots and, as I said, I kept turning the pages. It’s just that I expected more from this author.
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LibraryThing member detailmuse
I loved Lahiri's two collections of short stories, I liked her first novel ... and I rate this novel "okay."

It opens onto a 1960s period of Indian history (the Naxalite movement of rebellion toward Communism) and two brothers who are growing up near Calcutta. They're so close in age and bond that
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they're nearly twins, but they pursue different paths -- one toward education and a career in science in the United States and the other toward the political rebellion. Following a tragic event early in the novel, the story becomes an exploration of family and culture and the ways that generations of family members do (and don't) accept and forgive one another.

The opening evoked the Ethiopian/ Nigerian/ Afghani histories of, respectively, Verghese's Cutting for Stone, Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun, and Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. I enjoy historical fiction but it's tricky -- getting history and fictional characters to combine into an interesting Story rather than a Lesson or Message. I grew sensitive to it with Adichie and Hosseini; maybe it’s common to second novels? -- readers' praise of the interesting and unfamiliar settings in debuts spurs writers to educate in their seconds? And I was sensitive here too, until the story moved away from the history and I realized there wasn’t much story. Instead, there are numerous character biographies told in distant, third-person points of view that discourage reader attachment.

Lahiri's writing is assured but not beautiful and her content is interesting but without momentum. Considering what she does in her short stories, this novel seemed ultralight. In the whole book, I marked only one passage to excerpt, and it's meaningful in its hint at the generations-long effect of events and decisions:

It was the English word {yesterday} she used. It was in English that the past was unilateral -- in Bengali, the word for yesterday, kal, was also the word for tomorrow. In Bengali one needed an adjective, or relied on the tense of a verb, to distinguish what had already happened from what would be.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Subhash and Udayan had a close relationship as boys growing up in Calcutta 1950s & 60s, not long after Partition. As they matured, Udayan turned to political activism, and Subhash went to America to study. Udayan becomes increasingly entangled in an insurgent movement and is killed by the police.
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Subhash returned home, and met Udayan’s wife Gauri, who, as a widow, was expected to remain with her in-laws. With bold but perhaps misguided feelings of duty, Subhash married Gauri, who was pregnant, and took her to America to start a new life.

Subhash cares for Gauri and raises daughter Bela as his own. But Gauri is unfulfilled: she was a brilliant student at university in India, and has been unable to fulfill her dreams. She doesn’t love Subhash, and proves to be an uncaring mother. Little by little she distances herself from Subhash and Bela, finally taking a dramatic step towards personal independence. Subhash and Bela remain close, but Bela’s parentage remains “the elephant in the room” for Subhash, and Lahiri shows the long-term effects of Subhash’s initial bold act.

It’s not pretty. There’s very little happiness in this novel, and yet I found it hard to envision an alternative scenario that would have worked out better for the characters. Gauri could have remained in India, which would have required sacrificing her intellect and abilities to serve her in-laws. Gauri and Subhash could have stayed together for Bela’s sake, but that has a downside, too. Lahiri doesn’t sugar coat the emotions here: There are a couple of scenes that hit especially hard: when Subhash and Bela return from an extended trip to India, and when Bela and Gauri meet again many years later. Let’s just say Gauri was awful, and got exactly what she deserved.

This novel was not as brilliant as Lahiri’s short fiction, but I still feel it was worthy of a place on the 2013 Booker Prize shortlist.
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LibraryThing member msf59
Subhash and Udayan Mitra are brothers and best friends. It is Calcutta in the 1960s, a tumultuous and unstable time. Udayan, the youngest is the rebellious one, gravitating toward the Naxalite movement, a fierce, outspoken group, looking for radical change.
Subhash is quieter and more studious and
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flees to college in the United States. When he learns about a tragedy, involving his brother, he returns to India and finds his country and his family shattered. He begins to piece together exactly what happened in the “lowland” and tries to repair the immense damage.
This is an epic family drama, sweeping several decades, across two continents, with shifting narratives, giving each character a voice. They can be stubborn and frustrating, as they struggle to find contentment in their wounded lives. The prose is clear and gorgeous, with a current of sadness and despair, lying just beneath the surface.

“Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night.”

Yes, the wait for the new Lahiri, was a long one but she really delivers here.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
This sweeping family saga begins with two brothers growing up in Calcutta in the 1950s and 1960s.

Of the two brothers, Subhash was older than Udayan by fifteen months, and they were quite different from one another - mirror images, it was said. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, each felt
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completed by the other. They were inseparable until college, when they studied at different universities, and Udayan became caught up in the radical Naxalbari movement. (You can read more about this particular branch of class war in India that erupted in 1967 in this New York Times article.)

Udayan dies shortly after the book begins, but he remains the focus of all the other characters. One might even say this book is about the people in Udayan’s life who never got over his loss, and how it affected all of them.

Subhash had gone to Rhode Island for his Ph.D., but when he found out about Udayan’s death he came home for the funeral. Udayan left a young widow, Gauri, who, unbeknownst to Udayan, was carrying his child. Subhash decides the best thing for all of them would be for him to take Gauri back with him to Rhode Island, marry her, and raise the child as his own. Maybe she would even come to love him in time. After all, most marriages were arranged anyway.

Gauri has a girl, Bela, but it is Subhash who is the parent most devoted to her. Over the next forty years, we follow the lives of the three of them; their families back in Calcutta; and a few of the people they get to know in America. By the end of the novel, the back stories get resolved, and the characters seem ready at last to carve out a future apart from Udayan’s legacy.

Discussion: The author is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and this book has won accolades as well, but I wasn’t enamored of it. The tone is flat and depressing, although without doubt Lahiri is quite adept at conjuring places and distilling moods, in prose that resonates to the ear:

"In the afternoons, following mornings of bright sun, came the rumble of thunder, like great sheets of rippling tin. … From the terrace [she] watched the thin trunks of palm trees bending but not breaking in the maritime wind. The pointed foliage flapped like the feathers of giant birds, like battered windmills that churned the sky.”

I never felt connected to any of the characters. Even Subhash, the most sympathetic of them, is a mystery; we get no sense of his interior life. He grew up as “the quiet one” and remains so; who is he and what does he care about when he is not engaging with his daughter Bela? We never really know. He is even detached from Bela: in spite of all the time they spend together, he doesn’t know who she is at all or what she wants, and he is unwilling to “impose” on her in order to find out. His superficial relationship with Bela is somewhat understandable from the plot, but it doesn’t help us develop empathy for either of them.

Gauri too, remains a mystery, which does her no favors with the reader since she is such an unlikable character.

Evaluation: This book provides a detailed picture of the recent political and social changes in India, particularly in Calcutta. I wasn’t as satisfied with the portraits of the characters, however, but can’t deny the author’s ability to fashion elegant prose.
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LibraryThing member klburnside
I wasn't very impressed with this book. Neither the writing nor the characters really got to me like they have in Lahiri's other books.
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I've been curious about Jhumpa Lahiri for some time, but the urgency with which I desired to read her works had been dulled repeatedly by negative comments. Often, I'd hear a fantastic review of one of her books, only to be followed by an extremely negative one. Overrated was the word I have heard
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most often. Though I was still curious, I put her off repeatedly. Hoping to read all the selections in this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist forced me to finally give Lahiri a try. Thank you, Man Booker judges, for prompting me to finally read the works of a wonderful writer.

The Lowland is a fabulous family drama. Lahiri writes with a beauty and intimacy that I soaked up. The story made several turns and surprise stops that I hadn't expected, and this kept me intrigued. The Lowland isn't one of those books I will likely always remember and cherish, but while reading it, I was so absorbed that I nearly forgot I was reading a book.

The Lowland is a fabulous novel, and while there were characters, scenes, and moments that I thought could've been pared down some to allow the work to breathe, these were relatively minor. Overall, The Lowland is wonderfully paced and peopled, and the beauty of the journey is certainly worth the effort.
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LibraryThing member BCbookjunky
Two brothers, born in India before partition, come of political age in the 1960s. One brother becomes politically active, the other doesn’t, and their lives unfold in completely disparate ways. Tragedy is inevitable, and families struggle to readjust and heal. Some adjust better than others.

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word ‘Potentially’ should have preceded the publisher’s blurb of “Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate”, because the opportunities to create that kind of story were squandered. There was a rich substrate to mine: the struggles of the Bengali communist party, the reconciliation of politics with the realities of everyday family life, immigration and integration, grief and its effects, and the evolution of people as they grow from youth to middle age to their winters. None of these were explored; they were merely described.

The book spans over fifty years of the adults’ lives, yet fails to recognise that people change as they age. We are not the same in late middle age as we were in early adulthood. We mature, we acquire wisdom (of varying degrees, it’s true, some acquire a lot more than others), we gain insight into complex matters. This is the byproduct of enduring, surviving, aging. But Lahiri’s characters don’t evolve, so they don’t seem real; they remain static, dooming the reader to boredom.

This is a book of promise unfulfilled. It was the last of the Booker shortlist that I read, and it was the weakest.
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LibraryThing member jules72653
Good but I prefer her short stories.
LibraryThing member missizicks
As I started to read this book, I didn't think I was going to like it. The characters seemed so blank, so disinterested in their surroundings, so unwilling to say what they were really thinking and feeling. They float through their lives, occasionally making momentous decisions that never really
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live up to their promise. There was nothing particularly to grab onto with any of them, nothing that made me warm to them or want to root for them as life happened around them. The book is a sequence of events, sometimes recounted in a linear way, sometimes using flashbacks and multicharacter perspective. It never really gets going, it jumps around too much, and doesn't have anything striking to say. Despite beginning at a time of civil unrest in India, despite portraying the lives of a fragmented family. And yet, by the end of the book I didn't want it to end. I'd spent everyday time with the characters and they felt like neighbours I might nod to in the street. Nobody I would sit down with for a cup of tea and a chat, but people I would miss seeing around. The final chapter, told from the perspective of the character I was most interested in, but who doesn't really get a voice in the rest of the novel, was sad. All of that, and for what, he seemed to be saying. I didn't know, either.
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LibraryThing member Schatje
I chose this book because it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award, but I was disappointed with it. It left me cold.

Two Bengali brothers grow up in Calcutta in the 1960s and ‘70s. Though emotionally close, they are very different and choose
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different paths. Subhash, the elder, is cautious and strives “to minimize his existence, as other animals merged with bark or blades of grass,” while Udayan is daring and “blind to self-constraints, like an animal incapable of perceiving certain colors” (11). Subhash becomes a scientist who emigrates to the U.S. while Udayan becomes involved with a radical political group and defies his family by marrying Gauri, an independent-thinking woman. Udayan’s decision to take part in violent acts of insurrection has a devastating impact on his family, as does Subhash’s decision to “rescue” his sister-in-law from a “joyless house” (115). The majority of the novel is a long and painful examination of the consequences of these decisions.

My disappointment with the book stems from its characters; it contains a cast of not very interesting characters. Subhash has the positive traits: he is responsible, loving, and capable. Unfortunately, he is dull. The charismatic brother is irresponsible and selfish; by his own admission, he lies to and manipulates those he loves. “Udayan had given his life to a movement that had been misguided, that had caused only damage, that had already been dismantled. The only thing he’d altered was what their family had been” (115).

Gauri is the least sympathetic character. She suffers from what could be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but her thoughts are not given in sufficient depth. Two-thirds of the way through the novel, she makes a decision regarding her family which seems inappropriate for someone suffering from grief and guilt and which removes any sympathy a reader might have felt. Even when she is first introduced, she doesn’t behave as one would expect a person intelligent enough to study philosophy to behave. For example, she agrees to help Udayan by passing on information to sympathizers and by observing the movements of a policeman, but never really questions the significance of what she is doing: “She wondered exactly how she was contributing” (292). Her ambivalence left me feeling ambivalent towards her.

All of the characters seem to experience feelings of isolation and not belonging. Subhash feels “doubly alone. Unable to fathom his future, severed from his past” (63). Gauri always feels like a foreigner (236). These feelings are understandable; the problem is that other feelings are never really examined so the characters feel flat. Furthermore, characters don’t evolve: they never express their emotions to those they love, and they don’t grow. Gauri has some insights about herself (242), but they are long in coming.

Having harped about characterization, I must admit that the novel does develop worthy themes. For instance, there are discussions of time and memory (151 – 152). Unfortunately, the weak/superficial characterization overshadows the novel’s strengths.
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LibraryThing member SandDune
The Lowland is the story of two brothers, the cautious and reliable Subash and the adventurous Udayan who despite being the younger is the one who takes the lead in all their activities. Born to a relatively poor middle-class family in a suburb of Calcutta, the boys are inseparable as children, but
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as Udayan becomes involved in a revolutionary movement in early adulthood they begin to grow apart. And so for the first time in his life it is Subash who makes the first move, to leave his family and India to go to America to continue his studies in Oceanography. And as Subash comes to term with his new life in Rhode Island, Udayan's life also changes as he secretly marries the studious Gauri, to the shock of his traditional parents who had expected to arrange their sons' marriages.

But it is Udayan's death in the early stages of the book which is the pivotal event from which the rest of the book flows, with the ramifications of a decision that Subash makes after his brother's death following him and his family down the years. And it is here that the book really comes into its own and becomes a beautiful and heartbreaking portrait of how decisions taken with the best of intentions can have tragic and unforeseen consequences.

The language with which Lahiri tells her story is beautiful: listening to this in audio I felt at times that I was hanging on every single word. She can create a heart-breaking scene with very few words as here when Udayan asks Subash to reconsider his decision to go to America:

'You're the other side of me, Subash. It's without you that I'm nothing. Don't go.

It was the only time he'd admitted such a thing. He'd said it with love in his voice. With need.

But Subash heard it as a command, one of so many he'd capitulated to all his life. Another exhortation to do as Udayan did, to follow him.'

The narrative weaves back and forward over seventy years, with events seen through the eyes of first one and then another participant. But at no time did it feel rushed. And at no time did the characters seem anything over than very real people living the lives which were so different from the ones they had expected to lead. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
Having been a huge fan of​ Ms.​Lahiri's earlier​ books ("Interpreter of Maladies"​, ​"​The Namesake"​, and "Unaccustomed Earth"), I have to say that this latest one was not quite up to par. And I don't quite know if I can put a finger on that feeling: was it the extra drawn out and
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repetitive melancholic passages, or some ​metaphors that felt​ misplaced and forced,​ or was it​ an​ a​typical and​ impersonal format of dialogues?... Because it was not the plot; the plot was rather compelling: family ties, first strong then severed,​ as one brother struggles with most​ tragically misguided​ patriotic feelings and the other ​inadvertently ​messes up his life trying to salvage the skeleton of the family, while other members of this tragedy take a long time (close to a lifetime for some of them)​ to come to some semblance of happiness. Even though the mood of the whole narrative has the inevitability of doom about it, ​still t​here is a more or less hopeful denouement.

But somehow this book just wasn't what I came to expect from this talented writer. I think Ms.Lahiri is better at writing short stories (the only exception being her unforgettable "The Namesake"). There were glimpses of brilliance in this book, but as a whole, it just didn't appeal to me.​
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
A poignant story of two brothers who follow differing paths in life, and the consequences of their choices. As always, Lahiri creates memorable characters and takes the reader on a lifetime journey of their psyches. The themes include family, love, loyalty, and the anger which accompanies grief. A
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lovely, bittersweet tale!
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LibraryThing member agarcia85257
Title - The Lowland

Author - Jhumpa Lahiri

Source - Scottsdale Public Library

Summary -

Two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, grow up in Calcutta, during the 1960s, a time of strife and turmoil. Children of what was considered an ordinary family, they were none the less well educated with great
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aspirations of success from their parents. Inseparable, they still grew to be very different. The brothers took different paths in their ideology until the time came that set both their paths on a collision course.
Subhash was the ideal child, a good student, strong in his desire to please his parents. Udayan was different. His education only served to show him the difference between the classes in his country and how the regime oppressed those who thought differently. His was an ideology of anarchy.

"...In spite of the unrest, encouraged by professors, both brothers began postgraduate studies, Udayan at Calcutta University, Subhash continuing on at Jadavpur. They were expected to fulfill their potential, to support their parents one day..."

Subhash eventually leaves to America to further his studies as Udayan stays behind. The distance strains the brothers as they can only contact each other through letters. America opens Subhash's eyes to a world far beyond the India he left behind and the battle for revolution and change Udayan was fighting for seemed very far away.
The letters tell Subhash of a marriage. A union his parents oppose but Udayan doesn't care. Then there is a pregnancy and then a finally a telegram from his parents.

"...Udayan killed. Come back if you can..."

Subhash returns to India. To his parents who are crushed by the loss of Udayan. To the young pregnant wife of his brother, Gauri. To the truth that his brother was killed by the police.
He also finds Gauri a virtual prisoner in his parents' home. Locked away, not aloud to take meals with the family, forced into solitude.
Subhash makes a desperate decision. He marries Gauri, his brother's widow and takes her to America. To raise the child of his brother as his own.
A decision that changes his world forever. His parents stand against him and he must accept their anger and Gauri is not the quiet little widow he first thought she was. In the ensuing years, both will make decisions as one imprisons himself in a marriage and a life he had no concept of the degree of loneliness it would bring him. And the other, breaking free of the bonds that hold her to find her own life. But the cost of her acts will cause pain for all.

Review -

It took me a really long time to read this book. The first hundred pages or so moved quite slowly and though they were necessary to set up the rest of the novel, they lacked pace and interest. The characters of the brothers are wooden, caricatures of what we think Indian young men to be. The good son. A good student with potential and drive to succeed but utterly miserable. The rebel son. An anarchist shouting revolutionary slogans and propaganda until his one act does far more harm than good. An act he can never come back from. The parents could have been cut out of any B movie or TV show. People trapped by their own society's convention and expectations. But perhaps that is the intent with them.
The novel does not truly pick up steam until Gauri takes over the narrative when she reaches America, the wife of her dead husband's brother. In America she begins to believe she has her own potential separate from what is allowed to her by her husbands. For once she may have her own freedom despite the child growing within her. Even when the child is born, Bella, she still fights for her freedom. Even abandoning the child alone in the home just so she can go for a ten minute walk. Just so she can have a moment to call her own. Eventually those moments are not enough and Gauri does the unthinkable. An offense unpardonable by either culture. How Subhash and Gauri and Bella deal with Gauri's act is the main theme of the rest of the novel. And there is where the novel is at its strongest.
So if you pick it up and it seems to drag some in the beginning, stick with it, it does get good. But for me, it simply does not get good enough to make up for the slow start.
A good read but not worth all the hype.
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LibraryThing member TheLostEntwife
Last night I was up until 2am, wringing every last word out of this seemingly small, simply-covered book. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri made it past my self-imposed "read literature from places other than India for once" barrier because it has been put on the Man Booker shortlist as well as on the
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National Book Award list and, therefore, it must be read. So I picked it up, ready to have my heartstrings tugged on and I started a journey into a world of civil unrest that I was previously completely unaware of.

Read the rest of this review on The Lost Entwife.
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LibraryThing member hubblegal
Jhumpa Lahiri went to my top ten of favorite authors with her previous books so I was very hopeful that I would enjoy "The Lowlands". Not only was I not disappointed in that hope but I think this is her best yet. What a beautiful, heart wrenching novel about two brothers and the different paths
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each one took. I became so engrossed in this book and involved in the characters that I felt I was living their lives right along with them. There were times the book literally took my breath away.

Not only was it a wonderful story but I also learned so much about the politics of India. In many books, the political aspects go right over my head but Lahiri writes in such a way that it's very clear to follow and understand.

If you haven't tried any of Jhumpa Lahiri's books yet, don't miss out on this one. It's a beauty.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
While the countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s were going on in the U.S., a political uprising mounted by the poor and advanced by student groups was wreaking violent disturbances in India. Although news of these events created no ripples in American media, their effects were felt at
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all levels of Indian society.

The Lowland begins with two brothers growing up in Calcutta at this time of political turmoil: one bold and impulsive, driven by principle, ready to risk all for ideology; the other--the elder--his cautious, dutiful follower and supporter. Their paths diverge as they come into adulthood, Udayan leading a secret life of commitment to the communist cause and Subhash seeking an academic career in the U.S., far away from all that ties him to his personal history.

When a family tragedy alters the course of life for everyone involved, Subhash assumes his brother's family responsibilities. Now, within the close confines of family life, three people are isolated by nature and by circumstance. Guilt, deception, loss, and pain create walls of separation far thicker than the cultural divide between their Indian upbringing and their present in a Rhode Island college town.

The Lowland is the story of Subhash, bound by duty and love to a future he would never have chosen; Gauri, a self-absorbed intellectual who is unable to give; and Bela, who copes with her essential aloneness by embracing it and using it to define herself. In quiet, reflective language the author traces the growth of alienation and self-recreation in each of her principal characters, showing how redemption, when it comes, is for those who dare to transcend the barriers.

Lahiri's prose is simple and strong, full of straightforward declarative sentences and sentence fragments, spare and unencumbered. Much of its power comes from restraint. Yet somehow, with lean brushstrokes, she conveys the evolution of the inner life of her characters, compassionately and unapologetically, with a masterly eye to the intimate, revealing detail. This, more than any particulars of story, is what makes The Lowland a five-star novel for me.
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LibraryThing member RodRaglin
The Lowlands is a story about life and all that it entails; love, loss, hope, despair, loyalty, betrayal – all the big stuff plus the specifics and details, the characters and settings, that make it compelling and authentic.

It is also one of the few books so well written the reader feels he is
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experiencing the story rather than reading it.

Two brothers, born only 15 months apart, grow up in Calcutta. One takes an opportunity to further his education in America, one chooses a radical route in an attempt to improve conditions for his countrymen at home. Though only one survives beyond his mid-twenties, their lives remain linked by birth, circumstance and a woman.

In this compelling story, author Jhumpra Lahiri shows that despite success and material wealth, what is really important, what really shapes our lives, is where we begin, the relationships we forge with family, and the decisions we make early in life. These are the things that are manifested in our final destiny and then resonate for generations to come.

Lahiri tells of the brutality and corruption of the third world experience and the lure of opportunity and security western countries offer. But it does not come without a price – a feeling of displacement, of guilt, of not belonging that many new immigrants feel, and are made to feel, for decades after establishing and proofing themselves in a new country.

This is a novel of today and more so of tomorrow, a hopeful story of the blending of cultures, nationalities, religions and philosophies, both personal and political, toward a new future.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Lahiri's novel, the second that I have read, grew on me as I became involved in the complicated lives of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan , born about 15 months apart. Udayan was the risk taker, Subhash the parent pleaser. So it is Udayan's idea to sneak into the golf course of the country club
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when they are little, but it is Subhash who is beaten by the police officer with the putter they were playing with. "He was blind to self- constraints, like an animal incapable of perceiving certain colors. But Subhash strove to minimize his existence, as other animals merged with bark or blades of grass. " Through these characters, Lahiri is able to depict the Naxalite revolution that took place in Calcutta--" April 22, 1969, a third communist party was launched in Calcutta. The members called themselves Naxalites, in honor of what had happened at Naxalbari. Charu Majumdar was named the general secretary, Kanu Sanyal the party chairman." While Udayan is taken up with this ever increasing wave of violence for the sake of the downtrodden, Subhash travels to America, Rhode Island, where he will become a university doctoral student and eventually a professor. That act itself is something that distinguishes him from Udayan. A third major character, Udayan's new wife , Gauri, becomes integral to plot and the lives of these two brothers. To Udayan she becomes the unwitting accomplice to an act of violence, to Subhash she becomes his reluctant wife and mother to Bela. While Subhash is one of the most noble characters in modern fiction, Gauri's maternal instincts leave much to be desired. The summary states that :
"Jhumpa Lahiri weaves an extraordinary tale of brotherly love, familial obligations and marital compromises, and the impact of history on individuals. As the lives of the characters unfold, The Lowland becomes a moving exploration of how the choices they make and the secrets they keep reverberate across place and time."
That does a nice job of summarizing without revealing too much. Lahiri's writing continues to impress, beautiful descriptions of both India and the landscapes of Rhode Island. The third person narrations rotates through the experiences of various characters and I found it curious but thoughtful for her to end the novel with the character she selected. I also enjoyed getting to learn a little history about the Naxalite uprising and how other revolutionary leaders like Che Guevara, Lenin, and Mao influenced this movement that by the way is still going on.
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LibraryThing member judiparadis
Another wonderful Jhumpa Lahiri book about the Indian-American experience. Brothers raised in India in the 1960s go in different directions--one stays in India and joins student uprisings, while the other comes to the US to go to graduate school. Lahiri weaves in politics, family expectations,
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immigrant experiences, and lots about people trying to do the right thing and never getting it quite right. If you like her other books, you'll enjoy this one too.
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LibraryThing member AgneJakubauskaite

Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel “The Lowland” is a heartrending family saga, which spans several generations and multiple geographies. The story follows two brothers, Subhash and Udayan Mitras, who grew up in India during 1960s. Although inseparable in their childhood, the brothers are
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complete opposites. Udayan, impulsive and proactive, gets involved in the Naxalite movement and stays in India to fight against inequality and poverty, while Subhash, dutiful and responsible, leaves home to study in America. Not long after their separation, Mitras’ family is stricken by a tragedy, and Subhash returns to India to make things right.


1) On writing:
It took me some time to get used to the author’s writing style as she employs quite unusual punctuation in direct speech (no direct speech punctuation, that is), loves sentence fragments, and begins chapters using only pronouns so that it takes quite some time to figure out who exactly she is talking about. However, soon I not only got over these “unusualities” but also fell in love with them.

Although Lahiri’s prose is very direct and quite laconic, the characters and events are extremely well developed because every single word or plot detail is weighted. The author’s writing is very objective, one can even call it cold due to the lack of emotions, but it is so precise that there is no need for emotional descriptions; you can actually feel what the characters are experiencing.

2) On the story:

“The Lowland” is not a happy story. It is unfair and heartbreaking with occasional glimpse of light, just like the real life. Although the prose itself seems very objective at first sight, the novel is deeply moving, characters are multidimensional, very realistic and extremely relatable. I didn’t love this book in the usual way, it’s more of a love-hate relationship. It stirred up so many emotions in me! I felt depressed and devastated, I worried and even shed a tear or two, I was angry and perplexed… while at the same time I was admiring the eloquent prose.

VERDICT: It’s hard not to love a book that it so beautifully written and shakes you to the core.
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LibraryThing member alanna1122
This book was wrenching, exhausting and oh so beautiful.

I feel like I learned so much reading this book. I learned about India's rebel history, I learned about the experience of immigrants in New England, and I learned about relationships under unimaginable stress.

All these things were written
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about in the most beautiful and exacting prose.

In my opinion, Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the most important novelists of our time. This novel is gripping and elevating and she is masterful at creating a plot that is fresh and new and foreign and yet somehow, in each character I can see myself.

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