Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is an exquisite, captivating story teller - so it likely won't come as a surprise to hear that The Lowland, her latest novel, is a well written, fascinating and deeply thought provoking book. From a more personal standpoint, I love reading her work because it mimics many of my own experiences as an Indian American. I am intrigued by the ideas of immigration, migration, and adapting to a new culture -- so her themes are right on par with my interests.

The novel focuses on the lives and relationship of two brothers who are close as children, like mirror images to one another. Udayan and Subhash are growing up in Calcutta in the 1950s. Udayan is the younger brother, who “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.” As their lives unfold, Subhash goes to the US to pursue science, and Udayan joins a radical group essentially committing terrorism. Tragedy eventually takes hold, and the brothers are reunited in an unexpected way. In the end, this book is about the intimate relationship between siblings, and the cruetly and boredom of an average life. Don't let that scare you away -- Lahiri writes about these characters in a way that will inspire you as well as enrage you!

While Udayan is passionate and radical, his brother is experiencing his own small revolution as he adjusts to life in America. He falls into a marriage with a stranger, and they are formal with each other and lonely together. It is here that Lahiri's prose is a mirror for many immigrants -- as she highlights fears of isolation, the pangs of loneliness, and the identity confusion that often follows such a migration.  Several passages stand out, for example: “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.” There were many parts of this novel that felt forced and dramatized, many were a bit contrived - but there were plenty others that felt so real, it brought tears to my eyes.

Lahiri expertly switches from India to the US, from tragedy to happiness, in the pages of this novel. The result is an emotional, addictive read. I'm interested to see if this book will win the Booker... there are so many other great books on the shortlist. I'm working on reading them all! Which is your favorite?

In case you missed it, here's my fall reading list.

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