A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
2013 /352 Pages
I really wanted to like The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. I have had her novel The Namesake in my to read list for some time. Interpreter of Maladies won the 2000 Pulitzer. I was very much looking forward to reading this novel when it made the Man Booker long and short lists.
The book is about two brothers born 15 months apart in Calcutta India. Physically they share many traits. Inwardly they are very different. Subhash is the dutiful older brother who would never color outside of the lines. Udayan is the defiant younger brother who knows no lines. This is a sweeping story of their lives and the lives that they touch throughout their lives.
Lahiri has written intricately drawn characters. The readers comes to know the brothers, their mother, Udayan’s wife Gauri, and her daughter Bela. Over the course of the novel Lahiri is able to show each character’s inner turmoil and their hopes for forgiveness from others and themselves.
My issue with the book is that although the characters are fully fleshed out, I did not connect with any of them. Lahiri’s writing seemed very choppy and disconnected. She has a tendency to write sentences that seem disjointed with dangling participles or misplaced modifiers. Instead of reading along smoothly I felt I had to re-read sentences to figure out what she was actually saying. In some cases her sentences lacked subjects or were just prepositional phrases. It drove me crazy.
However, the choppiness may have been intentional. It may have been Lahiri’s attempt to force the reader into an uncomfortable relationship with the characters. She may have wanted the reader to keep an arms length relationship or one that is not very close and full of anxiety. If this was her intent, then she succeeded and I applaud her style. That said, the book left me restless and wanting more detail and less of a sweeping saga.
I enjoyed the descriptive style of parts of the book. Lahiri has many wonderful details of the flora and fauna in Calcutta and in Rhode Island. She describes the novel’s namesake – the lowland – in both beauty and ugliness. She weaves the lowland throughout the book in a unique way that almost becomes tactile an a character in itself.
As far as the Man Booker award is concerned, I believe it is a long shot to win. I would be very disappointed if it does. The Luminaries is better crafted and better told. The Testament of Mary is bolder and as much as I don’t like it, is written with much stronger language and feeling.