Two brothers, raised almost like twins. They share everything except a sense of adventure (or at least a fear of danger). Subhash, the older brother, is mature, level headed, while Udayan is the risk taker – and there are many risks to take in India in the 60s and 70s, as political upheaval overtakes Calcutta, taking Udayan with it. Udayan stays and builds a life in India becoming more involved with politics, while Subhash leaves India to pursue a PhD in Rhode Island. This is the world that Jhumpta Lahiri builds in her latest novel The Lowland.
I came into this book not knowing any real background or information on the political groups portrayed in The Lowland, so I found it very interesting. Much of my knowledge of this time period is on U.S. focuses such as Vietnam. But what I did have a lot of knowledge of were the places in Rhode Island that Subhash explores as he builds a life for himself outside the watchful eye of his parents, or anyone really. Reading about Port Judith, Block Island and others RI shore areas brought me back to my own childhood summers.
But this book is not about relaxing, or reflective moments along the shore. It explores complex relationships, as Lahiri’s books and stories often do, and also personal responsibility. I found the relationships in this book very interesting (I won’t go into them here for fear of some spoilers in case you go into this book totally blind). There were plenty of characters that I didn’t like, if I knew them personally I would probably say something directly to them about their behavior and actions. But Lahiri makes me care, makes me invested in what they are doing – whether I like them or not. And if you have never read anything by Lahiri before then you are in for such a treat with her writing, it is lovely and page turning. Not in a gripping, fast-paced sort of way, but in a slow moving, slow building storytelling sort of way.