The Lowlands, by Jhampa Lahiri.
The Lowlands, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Knopf (2013), Hardcover, 352 pages.
GLOBAL WOMEN OF COLOR
A brillant family story spanning from India to American and incorporating several generations, each individual with his and her particular needs.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake, gained enormous recognition and this one is sure to do the same. Her writing is a pleasure to read. While I learned a great deal about unrest in India in the 1960s, her development of her characters is central for the book.
Her story starts with two brothers growing up on the outskirts of Calcutta. Subhash, the elder is the steadier one; his brother Urdansay more volatile and adventurous. When they become adults, Subhash goes to the US to grad school and Urdansay remains home, becomes deeply involved in revolutionary activities, and marries. When Urdansay is killed in the lowlands behind the family home, his brother returns and takes responsibility for his wife, marrying her and taking her and her unborn child back to America. But the new family that is created is based on the lie that Subhash is the child’s biological father, and family life never quite settles into place. Lahiri explores the different paths husband, wife, and daughter take over the next 40 years.
Immigration and cultural isolation are major themes in The Lowlands, but even more prominent are issues of family roles and responsibilities. Despite their differences, the bond between the two brothers is strong, perhaps strengthened with Urdansay’s death. (Other books that I have reviewed recently are based on this same idea. See my review of Two Hearts and The Storm.) Urdansay remains ever-present in the new family. Parents’ responsibility is another key issue, both Subhash’s duty to his parents and the ways in which both parents fill and deny their daughter’s needs in America.
I received this book as a pre-publication review copy From Random house for which I am grateful. I read it on my NOOK. It will be published in September 2013.
I enthusiastically recommend this book to a wide variety of readers, to those interested in India and migrants from India to the USA, to those who care about relationships within families, and to those who like well-written books with sharp characterizations.