Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Subhash and Udayan are two brothers, separated by 15 months, who are inseparable in India.  Subhash is the older brother, and is quiet, determined, and many times defers to his younger, more rambunctious and outgoing brother, Udayan.  Their paths diverge in college, and eventually Subhash continues his studies in America.  Udayan, on the other hand, is equally intelligent, but his passion lies not in academics, but in the communist movement.  Tragedy strikes Udayan, and when Subhash returns to India, he changes the course of his own life in trying to help Udayan’s wife.

There is so much going on in The Lowland that it is amazing the story is not the length of a Harry Potter book.  In a nutshell, The Lowland is about family bonds and obligations.  The Lowland is about Subhash’s life and the profound impact Udayan’s life and choices have on his older brother; the reader does learn about Udayan through flashbacks, so the entire novel is not only from Subhash’s perspective.

What is beautiful about The Lowland is the emotions that Lahiri evokes through the brothers’ respective journeys.  The pages are filled with heartbreak, compromise, sacrifice, unfulfilled dreams, and hope.  I was stunned with Subhash’s path, and the fact that few choices in his life were made in his own interest.  He had assumed that after his studies in Rhode Island, he would return to India, marry a woman of his parents’ choosing, and start a family.  When tragedy strikes his younger brother, though, Subhash’s life takes a radical turn.

It is easy to take sides, and think that Subhash has sacrificed a great deal in the name of his family, and that Udayah was reckless and selfish, but that is a very superficial analysis of the brothers.  While Udayan did not make his family a priority, he possessed a political passion that is commendable.  Udayan believed in a more equal and just India, and fought against the wealthy and corrupt.  The different priorities of the brothers is thought-provoking and moving.  And, as someone who was unfamiliar with the Naxalite movement, The Lowland is a great read about the movement’s goal and beginning.  Overall, The Lowland is a moving novel about family, generational, political, and moral choices and challenges.

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