The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
This time, Jhumpa Lahiri has stepped out of her comfort zone of telling an immigrant story and has even flirted with the naxalite movement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. At least for me. The novel traces the lives of two brothers – Subhash and Udayan – and the different paths they decide to pursue. The book starts disappointingly – Lahiri on the unfamiliar territory of Bengal’s naxalite movement – but gains credibility soon thereafter when Subhash moves to US. In her comfort zone, Lahiri is superb. Subhash’s loneliness, fascination with US, constant comparisons and longing for India – is captured beautifully. And the beauty of the writing persists when Udayan’s wife Gauri married Subhash after Udayan’s death and follows him to US. Their daughter Bela’s journey back home to India is equally fascinating. And the most amazing thing about Lahiri unfolds here: she has told us this story many times – in Namesake and her short stories – and yet it is fresh, moving and powerful. Her USP continues to be her ability to tug at hearts without being melodramatic. There were at least two occasions when I cried. First, when Gauri leaves Subhash and Bela comforts him and second, when Subhash goes to the local farmers’ markets because the folks there remind him of Bela. What doesn’t work is the portion in India on the naxalite movement. Under Lahiri’s pen, it doesn’t hold you or jolt you. What also doesn’t work is the story meandering a bit, particularly towards the end. Nonetheless a master story-teller is a master story-teller. Like I say, if there is one writer who I would want to write like, it would have to be Jhumpa Lahiri.
Recommendation: A must read.