I am not a big fan of Jhumpa Lahiri, so when I say ‘meet expectations’, it means that I was ready to be disappointed with The Lowland, and it certainly met my expectations. With a big disclaimer in the first line itself, readers should have an idea of what is coming ahead.
The cover of The Lowland says it’s the story of brothers bound by tragedy. There is a tragedy no doubt, but how can the brothers be bound by it when only one is alive to feel the tragedy? Subhash and Udayan Mitra grow up in Calcutta in a small area called Tollygunge. They have a normal middle class childhood, but Udayan, the more boisterous child since childhood is impressed by the political climate and falls in with Naxals or Maoists. Subhash heads to America to pursue higher studies. Udayan is killed shortly after – no spoiler here because it happens in the first 20% of the book – and Subhas dutifully marries his wife Gauri.
Gauri has everything handed to her, and an open minded new husband who is ready to give her whatever she wants. But she lacks emotion! A daughter is born and mostly neglected by the mother, and later abandoned. This has an effect on the whole family who perhaps live drab and solitary lives without rising to their potential, or really ever being happy.
Jhumpa Lahiri writes about Bengalis. And she writes about 1970s a lot. The story is nothing great, and the writing is very simple. The fame and accolades the author has achieved perhaps lead the reader to expect a lot. I wonder if there is a dearth of authors writing about India or Indians, especially about the whole American experience? The story redeems itself in the final few chapters, but then there is some over simplification. All the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, and perhaps they didn’t need to be? Perhaps there was no need to write about what a dying man thought or went through and leave it to imagination?
The biggest shock in the plot comes toward the end when the reader realizes how much more culpable a character really is. Will you like The Lowland? Maybe there is only one way to find out, because as I said before, I am totally biased!