Perhaps it’s because I’m a mother, but I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel The Lowland
and the theme that stuck out was the question of what is worth spending your life doing?
That may seem a strange takeaway from a story about two brothers – one passionate, one dutiful – whose paths take dramatically different turns. The practical Subhash leaves for graduate school in the United States, while the more idealistic Udayan stays in India and becomes increasingly entangled in a rebel Communist political faction. (Spoiler alert)
Udayan breaks with tradition, choosing his own wife and marrying before his older brother. But those idealistic hopes are cut short early on in the book, as military police execute Udayan in front of his parents and wife. Subhash is called home to India for the funeral, and decides that the right thing to do is to marry Udayan’s pregnant widow Ghauri and bring her to America, away from his parents’ disapproval.
Once in America, Ghauri is increasingly dissatisfied with being a wife and mother, seeking intellectual stimulation by sitting in on philosophy classes at the university where her new husband works. Subhash, on the other hand, dotes on their daughter, insisting on keeping the girl’s paternity a secret for as long as possible.
This particular chapter of India’s history was fascinating, but I felt the political subtext of The Lowland kept it from reaching the deeply personal feeling of her earlier novel, The Namesake. However, Lahiri’s words are so astute and the way she can speeds up the narrative and then seamlessly drop right into a scene years later is brilliant.
My book club is going to discuss The Lowland at our next meeting, and I can’t wait to hear what others think of it.
I received a copy of “The Lowland” for review from Alfred A. Knopf, but you can order a book by clicking on the image above. Purchases made through this link may result in a commission for HapaMama.
Have you read “The Lowland”? Leave a note in the comments and share your thoughts!