Friday, 15 August 2014

The lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri

Why do people have a connection? Is it because they are family or is it based on shared experiences? And what is left of that connection when you realize you did not really know the other at all?
How important are tradition and heritage? And how can you find the freedom to live your own life and what is the prize that has to be paid for that?

Two brothers, so different and still so connected. Subhash is the eldest and he is the careful one, Udayan is the younger brother and he is the risk-taker.

The brothers grown up in Calcutta, when India just became independent. The boys do everything together and form an unity. When the boys go to university during the sixties, there is a lot of unrest in India. Many people are angry about the hunger and the poverty. Subhash does not get involved with this, he goes to America to continue his studies.

Udayan gets involved with radical communists who want to change society by violent attacks. Against the will of his parents he marries Gauri, a student of philosophy. This goes against all tradition where arranged marriages are the norm. Udayan now leads a double-life, he is a married man and a teacher but also a radical terrorist.

Two years later Subhash gets the message he needs to come home, his brother has been shot. When Subhash arrives in Calcutta, he decides to marry his brother’s widow and raise his child as his own. An honorable idea, only it does not bring him the happiness he hoped for. Gauri is too preoccupied with her grief to give Subhash or her daughter any chance.

Almost nobody is happy in The lowland. A deep feeling of melancholy comes from every page, as each character is struggling with longings, expectations and most of all themselves. But do not worry, it is not a depressing book, far from it.
I loved how Jhumpa Lahiri managed to change perspective so you could get to know the different characters and their motives. I also enjoyed how the atmosphere of Calcutta and the difference with life in Rhodes Island became clear. That was done very well and with empathy.

The lowland is the second novel written by Jhumpa Lahiri, who also wrote The namesake and two books with short stories. Her parents are from Bengal and she grew up in the US. Now she lives with her husband in Rome. The lowland was on the Man Booker prize shortlist last year, but it lost from The luminaries.

I thought The lowland was a beautiful book and I really enjoyed it. I also bought The namesake, so that will be read soon.

Published in 2013

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