Saturday, October 26, 2013

"The Lowland," by Jhumpa Lahiri

I have devoured each of Jhumpa Lahiri's three earlier works of fiction (one novel and two collections of short stories), so of course I did the same with her new novel,"The Lowland" (Knopf, 2013). Her focus on the lives of immigrants, in particular immigrants from India, is an important one in this land of immigrants, the United States. My own connection with India (growing up there) makes me even more interested in Lahiri's work. But I admire and like Lahiri's fiction not only because of its subject matter but also because the writing is so very good. Her understanding of character, of landscape, of longing, of loss, of the need for resilience in the face of troubles -- all are great features of her work. This latest fiction from Lahiri differs from the earlier books in that it takes place not only in the U.S. but also in India. (Earlier works referred to India but mainly took place in the U.S.). "The Lowland" is the moving, sometimes wrenching story of two brothers who grow up in Calcutta, brothers who are extremely close, but are different in their characters. Subhash, the older, is careful and rule-following; Udayan is impulsive and passionate. Udayan becomes involved in the underground Naxalite movement of the 1960s, while Subhash travels to Rhode Island in the U.S. for graduate studies. They write to each other, rarely see each other, yet through everything, the strong bond between them continues. Udayan marries, then dies as a direct result of his political beliefs and actions. Subhash returns to Calcutta to find his parents devastated, and has to decide what to do about Udayan's pregnant widow, Gauri. I won't give away the rest of the plot, but suffice it to say that it is compelling, heartbreaking, happy and sad in turns, and at the end, decades later, cautiously redemptive. Lahiri has, once again, written an impressive work of fiction, perhaps her best to date.

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