Review: Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland
Read with: cups & cups of really posh tea
I went into Page One a few weeks back to buy Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries after finding out that it book the Man Booker Prize this year. But understandably, it was sold out so I settled for The Lowland because it was shortlisted and Khaled Hosseini had praised it.
The Lowland is about the lives of two brothers, Udayan and Subhash, growing up in Calcutta (although Subhash spends most of his life in Rhode Island). While they are identical lives throughout childhood and adolescence, the two brothers find themselves markedly different in adult life. Subhash (the more reserved, insecure older brother) wants to lead a quiet life in academia while Udayan becomes passionate about the Maoist student, or 'Naxalite', movement in the city during the 1960s. This oscillation between an impenetrable bond and an inability to relate to one another is metaphorically described by the title of the book. There's a love story that has truly dysfunctional and its effects can be felt in the next generation. Overall, it tells of what it's like to feel out of place, the lies we're forced to keep, and the surprising ways that love manifests itself.
I think it's hard not draw parallels with The Kite Runner, which is not necessarily good or bad. Many elements of the book are similar: two brothers, one goes to the U.S., feelings of isolation in the West, need to retain identity, and journeys back to one's war-torn/violent homeland in search for it. Sibling relationships are always interesting topics to write and read about. I think it's because most of us can relate and they're complex; familial love is always augmented when it's set in the backdrop of dual-cultural settings and where one's character is tested.
I really enjoyed the book. It was a pretty fast read mainly because the writing style is so effortless. The dialogue is so natural that it easily flows in and out of Lahiri's beautiful descriptions. One thing is that it's quite slow in the beginning; I'm usually really patient for a book to kick off but this went on for a long time. When a major event actually happened, I wasn't even surprised because my mind was still expecting another few pages of monotony. But when it does kick off, it becomes a really good read. There's a few twists in the end; I wish the author had revealed one of them earlier so that one of the main character's actions would be more understandable and less annoying. But I guess that's what made the end all the more exciting. I was definitely happy that the ending was relatively cheerful, as I had become quite attached to the characters.