The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri


The story of two brothers living in 1960s Calcutta. One becomes an oceanographer, the other a political activist 

❖  The Lowland features two Bengali brothers Subhash and Udayan who follow different paths as they grow up in Calcutta during the 50s and 60s. Subhash is the older sibling and is drawn to the natural world, choosing to become an oceanographer and moving to the States to do so. Udayan is not so conventional, rather a energised activist who joins the Naxalite movement and opposes anyone and thing that seems a threat to what he sees as his right.

Udayan gets involved in several illegal activities in pursuit of his moral and ethical standards, and marries a woman whose political beliefs match his own, to the distain of his family.

Bit of spoiler alert, but has to be said: soon after this Udayan is killed in a skirmish. His new wife Gauri is pregnant and lost. Her brother in-law, the sensible Subhash takes her as his own wife in order to provide a life for her and the child and heads back to the States, wife in tow. It’s unsurprising to learn Gauri is unhappy with her new life, and how she copes is the subject matter of the rest of the book.

He felt his presence on earth being denied, even as he stood there. He was forbidden access; the past refused to admit him. It only reminded him that this arbitrary place, where he’d landed and made his life, was not his.

The characters are exceptionally well drawn and what kept us both glued to the pages. The setting and plot and therefore the pace, drastically change once Subhash and Gauri head back to the United States to live. This is a bit of a shock after the energy and fervour of the opening chapters but the strength of the characters keeps the story interesting.

From Bengali culture and politics to oceanography to philosophy, this is a book that covers a range of topics and themes in a personable way. Both Suzy and Rachel said they would recommend it.

Published 2013
Alfred A Knopf
340 pages

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