Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is a family portrait that captures several generations of a single family through multiple lenses. Centered around two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, their relationship with each other becomes a reflection of their individual coming of age stories as they develop their own political, social, and familial roles.

The two main settings of the novel, Calcutta and Rhode Island, are juxtaposed just as the lives of the brothers are.  The political upheaval surrounding the Udayan and family in Calcutta is a stark contrast to Subhash’s curious beach strolls as he focuses on his studies.  Udayan joins the revolutionary Naxalite movement in Calcutta, marries a woman who his parents had not chosen for him, and yet connects strongly with the future of his country. Alternatively, Subhash takes his life pursuits to New England where his inner battle surfaces between his loyalty to tradition and his family, participating in empty and fruitless relationships, never truly making a path for himself.  Despite their differences, Subhash finds it difficult to create his own life without the actions taken by his brother.

In Subhash’s absence, Udayan’s political involvement leads to his violent death that sends ripples through the remaining family members’ lives: those of his parents, brother, unaccepted wife, and unborn child. Upset with his parents’ dismissal of Udayan’s wife, Gauri, Subhash assumes his brother’s role as husband and father while his parents cling to the past of their deceased son, forgetting that they still have the living to live for.

The novel shines a light on individual choice and one’s ability to decide how to react to the decisions made around us. The story is an intimate look at individual will and familial ties as defining influences in crafting character and one’s destiny.