The scope of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is epic: four generations of family through five decades in India and America.
This could be a recipe for disaster, as characters become truncated and neglected in favor of pushing the tale forward. Happily this is not the case here. We become intimate with all of Lahiri’s characters: the brothers Subhash and Udayan, their parents, their (!) wife Guari, their (!) daughter Bela, and Bela’s daughter Meghna.
I appreciate the range of feeling I had for these characters, the deeply flawed Udayan and Guari, the honorable Subhash, the damaged but pushing forward best she can Bela.
I also found some frustration, which kept The Lowlands a 4.5 star book, not a 5 star book. Mainly the changes in “voice,” and being made to figure out each time from whose perspective we were now seeing things. I suppose this could be a fun game, but I found it frustrating and I sometimes had to backtrack once I understood who was now speaking.
Approaching the end of the novel, I simultaneously feared an unsatisfying finish, and relished the possibility of an (I thought) hinted-at twist — is Udayan not dead at all? Is that even possible? The twist, when it comes (we’re not doing spoiler alerts this late in the game, are we?), Guari’s implication in Udayan’s most radical act and thus ultimately his death, is both shocking and played nicely low-key.
A sure sign of my feelings for this book is this: I was very late with this review, coming in less than two hours before our deadline. I decided I needed to try to skim the last 150 pages and do my best with the review… but I was simply not able to do that. The writing is too good for that, and I had to hang in there and push through at the expense of sleep and work.
Booker judges, vote for Subhash and his clan!