The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Published in 2013
My copy: Library
From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him.
I found this to be such an incredible book that it’s taken me a few days to get my thoughts together and write a review. In Calcutta in the 1960s, brothers Subhash and Udayan are incredibly close, sharing everything and getting up to mischief together. But as they get older, Udayan becomes increasingly involved with the Naxalite movement – a group of people in Calcutta intent on a revolution and with communist ideals. Subhash finds it hard to relate to Udayan’s new strong set of beliefs, and the brothers start to drift apart – yet still have that strong sibling bond. But eventually, Subhash leaves India to study in the US. He becomes almost estranged from his family, unable to phone them, and getting only the occasional letter from Udayan. And then tragedy, inevitably, strikes, and the lives of the family are turned upside-down.
I absolutely loved this book – but it is seriously heavy going at times! It is incredibly sad in places, and some sections are quite devastating – Subhash particularly has a pretty bad time of things and I did feel for him throughout the novel. The political side of things, while essential, never takes over the book and we are given enough information to ensure this aspect of the novel really adds something to the story without overwhelming it.
The novel covers about 60-70 years, so often things move forward quickly and it can be hard to get to know some of the characters as a result of this. However, we get the points of view of several different characters in the novel, and this helps to create a rounder, fuller picture of them as we find out more about their pasts and what has motivated them. I also think the author perfectly encapsulates how the actions of one person can have such catastrophic and far reaching effects on so many people, for so many years.
As I say, this can be a hard novel to read at times, and it does feel relentlessly sad in some ways. But I still enjoyed it immensely and I thought it was beautifully written. I also thought the ending tied everything up perfectly.
My rating: 9 out of 10