Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is full of beautiful, elegant language that wisked me to Calcutta, India and then to the harsh Atlantic coast. Two brothers, born 15 months apart, grow up united in all things. But the emotional bond between the two seems to unravel as they age and move apart. Subhash, the older brother, complied with his parents wishes and ended up moving far away for schooling. With the physical distance came an emotional distance that kept the brothers apart. Udayan, always the more political, stayed home but married a woman against his parents wishes, Gauri.
The events leading to one brothers death showed the political culture of India in the 60’s and the political inequality and government overreach that infused Udayan’s world. Protected by distance and a less confrontational personality, Subhash ends up picking up the broken pieces of his brother’s life but never ends up putting the pieces together. Life is filled with bad choices where no one ends up winning and Lahiri’s telling of this emotionally bare story is so heart achingly beautiful.
Gauri, who ends up married to both brothers, never recovers from a betrayal that Lahiri taunts the reader with until the end of the novel. Bela, the daughter of Gauri and Udayan who’s primarily raised by Subhash, grows up without much family and the emotional stability that may have given her. The story tells what happens when you don’t live the life your parents prescribed for you, very deviant of the Indian culture of family first. Lahiri doesn’t judge the characters or their decisions but we see the empty house that Subhash and Udayan’s parents had built in anticipation of their sons and their wives returning home. The house is as empty as some of the characters feel.
This was an amazingly wonderful book to read. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to read about the complexities of familial expectations and disappointments.
Read May 2014