Even as I finished this book a few weeks ago, The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri, continues to hold something over me, hovering in the back of my mind and heart. It left an unexpectedly strong emotional resonance that drew me in and left an impression.
The title of the book reflects the neighborhood in Calcutta in which two brothers, close in age and relationship, grow up. And while the book itself spans a lifetime, it is the events in this small neighborhood that form the basis for all that is to come in the story. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The book begins as the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who begin thick as thieves, but start to part ways during university, where Subhash is drawn to the opportunities of a PhD in America, and Udayan to the revolutionary fervor of 1970s Calcutta. Early on in the book, we learn that this second brother is killed by the police because of his involvement in violent anti-government protests, and it is the impact of that death on those around him that forms the basis for the book. Upon hearing of his brother’s death, Subhash returns to India and finds his parents in shambles, and his new sister-in-law, Guari, devastated and pregnant. He offers to take her to America and marry her, and raise the child as his own.
The story goes slowly through these years after the child is born, tracking the small and often painful movements of their relationship, Guari’s evolving need to develop her own inner life, and the challenges these issues present to this small, immigrant family. The latter part of the book speeds up, skipping many years, as we watch the characters age, often without much change or movement in their life circumstances. Only at the end are there a series of breakthroughs – though not for everyone.
Beyond being an exceptionally talented writer, evocative and beautifully descriptive, Lahiri does a masterful job of tracking the inner lives of the main characters, their seemingly self-imposed limitations, challenges in communication, and an inability to confront the source of their pain – the death of Udayan. It is a powerful book that resonates long after reading.
Just Because I Liked It:
- A psychiatrist once described two categories used in his work: internalizing disorders (e.g. anxiety and depression), where the person suffers internally, and externalizing disorders (e.g. ADHD, ODD), where the challenges are experienced more profoundly by the world around the person. ADHD is perhaps one of the most common in-school diagnoses, one for which finding the right interventions can be a challenge. I thought this post in Cult of Pedagogy had helpful and thoughtful suggestions that can be used by parents and educators alike.
- Who lives over the Green Line in Israel? Not exactly who you might think. This article from Mosaic thoughtfully explores this question.