Summary and book reviews of The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland

By Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2013,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2014,
    352 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Book Summary

From Subhash's earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother's sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass - as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India - their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives.

Udayan - charismatic and impulsive - finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him: his newly married, pregnant wife, his brother and their parents. For all of them, the repercussions of his actions will reverberate across continents and seep through the generations that follow.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed, of ties that ineluctably define who we are. With all the hallmarks of Jhumpa Lahiri's achingly poignant, exquisitely empathetic story-telling, this is her most devastating work of fiction to date.

Normally she stayed on the balcony, reading, or kept to an adjacent room as her brother and Udayan studied and smoked and drank cups of tea. Manash had befriended him at Calcutta University, where they were both graduate students in the physics department. Much of the time their books on the behaviors of liquids and gases would sit ignored as they talked about the repercussions of Naxalbari, and commented on the day's events.

The discussions strayed to the insurgencies in Indochina and in Latin American countries. In the case of Cuba it wasn't even a mass movement, Udayan pointed out. Just a small group, attacking the right targets.

All over the world students were gaining momentum, standing up to exploitative systems. It was another example of Newton's second law of motion, he joked. Force equals mass times acceleration.

Manash was skeptical. What could they, urban students, claim to know about peasant life?

Nothing, Udayan said. We need to learn ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. "Udayan was the one brave enough to ask them for autographs…He was blind to self-constraints, like an animal incapable of perceiving certain colors. But Subhash strove to minimize his existence, as other animals merged with bark or blades of grass" (p. 11). How do the differences between the boys both strengthen and strain the tie between them?
  2. Does Subhash's decision to make it "his mission to obey (his parents), given that it wasn't possible to surprise or impress them. That was what Udayan did" (p. 11) follow a pattern common among siblings? What part do their parents play in fostering the roles each boy assumes?
  3. What does Udayan's reaction to Subhash's decision to go to America (p. 30) and Subhash's ...
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Reviews

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Readers looking for a plot-driven narrative might not find The Lowland to be their cup of tea. An expert chronicler of the human condition, Lahiri’s work has always been deeply introspective, relying less on external “action,” relentlessly propelling onward nevertheless. In The Lowland, she again mines the complex emotional landscape of her characters, chiseling away at stone with a fine scalpel.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Though Lahiri has previously earned greater renown for her short stories, this masterful novel deserves to attract an even wider readership.

Booklist

Starred Review. Lahiri attains new heights of artistry—flawless transparency, immersive intimacy with characters and place—in her spellbinding fourth book and second novel, a magnificent, universal, and indelible work of literature. An absolute triumph.

Reader Reviews
Diane S.

The Lowland
Two brothers, born fifteen months apart in Calcutta, India, inseparable until the 1960's when they are both in their mid twenties and their interests begin to diverge. Udayar becomes a follower of Mao's revolutionary politics and joins the Naxalite ...   Read More

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The Naxalites in India

In The Lowland, Udayan Mitra, one of the two brothers in the story, gets pulled into India's nascent communist movement that kicked into high gear in the 60s, especially in the state of West Bengal where a fair portion of the novel is set.

Charu MajumdarThe world's largest democracy has had brushes with communism for decades now, the origins of which can be traced to two farmer-driven movements in the 1940s right around the time of India's independence. The Telangana movement in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh inspired a similar one, the Tebhaga, in West Bengal. While this movement was taking tentative hold and the concept of workers' rights and their awareness was beginning to grow roots, there were incidents of unrest in West Bengal's tea ...

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