Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri
I approached The Lowland with scepticism after my Bengali friends (her ardent fans) said they were disappointed. Steering clear of it for a while, I couldn't resist when it turned up at my library. Perhaps their disappointment stemmed from the hype around its booker prize nomination. Devoid of expectations, and anticipating an average novel, I was pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise.

Lahiri has always based her books on the Bengali immigrant experience and this is no different. But what is refreshing is the way she has used the naxalite movement as the background to unfold the story and take her complex characters through it.

In a nutshell:

Subhash and Udayan are two boys growing up in the 60s and find themselves in the brink of the naxalite movement. Udayan becomes a naxalite supporter whereas Subhash travels to the US in search of better prospects. Their paths diverge, as they move on with their lives. However, though their ideology, priorities and persona differ, they end up marrying the same girl. Gauri elopes with Udayan to marry him and later as events unfold, leaves for the US as Subhash's wife.

The story takes a turn from then as the focus turns on Gauri as she tries to adjust and forge her own way with a helping hand from Subhash. However, their relationship built on shaky ground is under constant threat and their daughter Bela is the casualty of their fragile marriage.

What works:

Lahiri's main strength lies in the way she delves into the minds of her characters. Subhash's relationship with Bela their daughter is beautifully described. The changes in their relationship as Bela grows from a young girl to the reticent teenager and later the strong willed woman is beautifully portrayed.

  • The characters are strong and diverse and she paints in them various shades.
  • The story is well plotted as the ending sheds light on the behaviour and the morally questionable actions of the characters.

Read it as a standalone novel without the hype surrounding the book and its author and you may find it worth your time.

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