Writers : Jhumpa Lahiri
My Rating: 4 on 5
The Lowland refers to the stretch of marshy land between two ponds. The story is set in West Bengal, around Calcultta and is about two brothers, Subhash and Udayan. Subhash, the elder one, is the responsible and more careful one while Udayan is more of a rebel. They both grow up under the same roof and notice their drastically different nature and reaction to events. Subhash moves to the US to pursue his studies, much to the chagrin of his younger brother who is a communist in the making and hates anything to do with America. Subhash is leading his freedom-filled life, while Udayan goes on to marry his love Gauri against his parents’ wishes. One thing leads to another and Udayan is shot down by the police force due to his involvement with the Naxalites.
Subhash decides to take up Gauri and her unborn baby’s responsibility and decides to marry her. Gauri is delighted by the offer as she can get away from her hateful in-laws and a chance to study further in the US. The relationship between the baby and Subhash is one of the highlights of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed and could relate to the father-daughter relationship and somewhat with Gauri too. As the story progressed, I developed a kind of contempt towards Gauri for being the way she was. The rest of the book sees the characters aging further and several tracks and characters are introduced. I can’t reveal much without labeling this review as a spoiler.
So, as with Lahiri’s other works, characters and their different layers and the complex mesh of relationships is the crux of the book. Naxalites act as a colorful backdrop and gives us a glimpse of this face of West Bengal, but it is not crucial to the book itself. I love Lahiri for the ease with which she can describe and analyze a character and lay it open for us. In the first few pages, she creates such beautifully etched, strong characters in Subhash and Udayan, that the latter continues to linger in your mind, long after his character ends in the book. Gauri’s character was an enigma to me. I could relate to her so well at times, but felt her too aloof and cold at other times. The treatment she gets at the end of the book was so fitting, I thumped my fist at her and said ‘You deserved it’.
I read this book before the Man Booker Prize 2013 was announced. Having read no other book which was in the running for the prize, I was rooting for Lahiri. Looking back at some Booker Prize winners I have read, I am not surprised The Lowland didn’t win the prize. It is good, just not Booker material though.