The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The LowlandJhumpa Lahiri was one of my favourite new discoveries in 2013 so I have really been looking forward to reading her latest novel, ‘The Lowland’ which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year and has recently been longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who grow up in Calcutta in the 1950s and 1960s. While Udayan’s involvement in an underground Communist movement ultimately results in his death, Subhash starts a new life in the United States, later marrying his widowed and pregnant sister-in-law, Gauri, and taking her with him back to New England.

The beginning of the story about Udayan’s involvement with the Maoist Naxalite movement represents a change of setting from much of Lahiri’s previous work which has never really touched upon radical politics in depth. However, although the scope of ‘The Lowland’ is wider and more ambitious compared to her first novel, ‘The Namesake’, the story soon settles back into a set of themes which will be familiar to those who have read Lahiri’s other work, namely the Bengali immigrant experience in the United States and the bridging of these contrasting identities and cultures.

‘The Lowland’ feels like a book which has been written very slowly. The characters are vividly drawn and the prose is plain, precise and dense all at the same time. One of Lahiri’s specific talents is her understated observations about the challenges faced by young couples in Subhash and Gauri’s situation. The nuanced way in which she describes their marriage of convenience and the consequences it has for Gauri’s daughter, Bela, is devastatingly perceptive and the ending is particularly powerful.

Overall, Lahiri’s real strengths lie in her mesmerising short story collections ‘Interpreter of Maladies‘ and ‘Unaccustomed Earth‘ and I think that either of these books would be a better place to start for those who are new to Lahiri. Nevertheless, ‘The Lowland’ rightly deserves the recognition it has recently received by the judges of various literary prizes and I highly recommend it to those who enjoyed her other work.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. Interesting that you think her talent really lies in the short stories; having loved The Lowland I’m now eager to read some of her stories.

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed The Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake and I look forward to this one also. Thank you!

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  3. Hi, Thanks for the review and recommendation. I have The Interpreter of Maladies on my shelf, so I think I’ll start with that and move from there!

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  4. Col

    The Lowland is on my shelf to be read but I’m intrigued about your advice on her short stories as a better starting point. I will look out for those and perhaps try and come at The Lowland that way!

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  5. I always got the feeling that she’s better at short stories than full-length novels. I didn’t like The Namesake as much as I hoped to. I love her short stories however.

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  6. Thanks for the advice, I keep seeing her name but not yet read one.

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  7. hollycooksthebooks

    Loved this book, would say it’s on of my favourites so far this year. I just loved how it was so epic and haunting and the writing is superb. I get what you mean about it being written slowly, everything about it seems very deliberate and methodical and I think it takes real skill to write like that without it being boring. The ending still gives me goosebumps!

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  8. I am quite a fan of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work and your review did it justice I believe.

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  9. Chris Sullivan

    This is a wonderful book and I gave it five out of five. You’re mention of, “The nuanced way in which she describes their marriage of convenience and the consequences it has for Gauri’s daughter, Bela, is devastatingly perceptive and the ending is particularly powerful.” is very true. Great review.

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  11. I haven’t read any of Lahiri’s short stories but I’m really interested in reading The Lowland. As you know, I’m trying to diversify my reading and I’ve heard really good things about it. I’m glad you think the awards/mentions are justified! I can’t wait to read this.

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