I’ve read both of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short-story collections, and I loved her first novel, The Namesake. I’ve been waiting for months for The Lowland to come out. I just finished it last night. While it was different than I expected, I thought the novel brought out Lahiri’s greatest strength: her ability to portray familial relationships in their beauty, ugliness, pettiness, and majesty.
Subhash and Udayan are brothers, only 15 months apart, living in Calcutta. Subhash decides to go to the United States to study oceanography, while Udayan becomes involved in the Naxalite rebellion and secretly marries the beautiful Gauri. Near the beginning of the novel, something happens to shift the trajectory of the story completely, taking me far from where I thought we’d be going. But of course, Lahiri’s familiar themes of isolation, family, and being haunted by memory all play into the novel, up to the very end.
What sets this novel apart from her body of work, for me, is the more universality of the themes. While being Indian in the States has been a huge undercurrent running through her work, this novel touches on something deeper and more global–what is a family relationship like? What defines a marriage? How do we relate to our parents? are all questions that have nothing to do with being Indian-American, and everything to do with being a person. While this may not go down as Ms. Lahiri’s finest work, I’d argue that it’s still important.