I’ve been a fan of Jhumpa Lahiri since devouring her rich collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies (1999) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award in 2000 and then her first novel, The Namesake (2003), which was adapted as a (subpar) Hollywood movie. Jhumpa Lahiri even visited my college for a reading and book signing where I nervously choked out a sentence of admiration as I watched her sign my copy of The Namesake. I’ve always found refuge in Lahiri’s writing as she so poetically draws readers into her stories through her flowing language, relatable characters and discussion of cultural themes. Lahiri’s stories usually focus on Indian Americans, Indian culture and one’s personal identification among foreign environments but draws from emotions and situations that are universally understood.
It’s been 7 years since Ms. Lahiri’s last book, Unaccustomed Earth and I was anxiously awaiting her latest literary endeavor. Jhumpa Lahiri’s newest novel, The Lowland debuted last month and I patiently reserved a copy at my local library. What do you expect from a post-grad trying to save money and shelf space?
Although The Lowland
reflects familiar genre territories for Lahiri (Indian culture, familial relations, Indian-American identity, self-discovery, etc) I think overall, it was an interesting, unique read. Lahiri weaves political, historical topics into an emotional story about two brothers growing up united by their differences who eventually, drift apart as they build their separate identities. The historical backdrop for this novel shows India in the late 60s, in a period when Communism had a strong influence on the population and violent rebellions plagued the country. I was unaware of the Naxalite movement
described in The Lowland
which was mainly influenced by Mao Zedong’s Communist ideals and to which one of the main characters of the book, Udayan, finds himself inspired by.
Lahiri’s evocative prose and raw emotions shine through the novel producing powerful, relatable moments that drive the lengthy story and hypnotize readers. Some critics argue that the lengthy prose cements Lahiri’s gift for short stories, not novels and that it takes away from the breadth of the action. At times during The Lowland, I would agree, but I think without this close attention to detail and poetic imagery, the novel would lose Lahiri’s distinct voice and direction.
As they approached the house she saw that the grass had grown nearly to her shoulders. The different varieties sprouted like wheat, like straw. It was tall enough to reach the mailbox, to conceal the shrubs on either side of the door. No longer green at that height, some sections reddish for lack of water. The pale specks at their tips seemed attached to nothing. Like clusters of tiny insects that didn’t move. Looks like you’ve been away awhile, the taxi driver said. (210)
Like in all of her work, in The Lowland, Lahiri expertly develops her characters through heartbreak and happiness, through the mundane and dramatic, in which readers cannot stop wondering about them. The Lowland contemplates universal themes of human nature; the immigrant experience, familial ties, isolation, love and the desire for companionship.
The difference was so extreme that he could no accommodate the two places together in his mind. In this enormous new country, there seemed to be nowhere for the old to reside. There was nothing to link them; he was the sole link. Here life ceased to obstruct or assault him. Here was a place where humanity was not always pushing, rushing, running as if with fire at its back. (34)
If you’re a die-hard Jhumpa Lahiri fan like me or just interested in this book, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of The Lowland and get lost in yet another addicting literary pleasure albeit, a powerfully, dark one. I can’t wait for the next book!
Have you read The Lowland? What are your thoughts? Do you have any good, new book recommendations?