Friday, October 25, 2013

The Lowland

This is my review of 'The Lowland' by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Umbilical ties cut deep and bind together. Udayan and Subhash Mitra, born 15 months apart in the lowlands of Tollygunge, Calcutta, are alike and yet dissimilar. The elder brother, Subhash, is placid, eager to obey and fall in line. Udayan is bold, impulsive and idealistic. Quite predictably, you know what's in store for them.
The placid brother makes a success of his career, but his personal life is in shambles and the younger one's idealism snatches him away far too soon. Lahiri's fluid, visual lucidity and layered writing vouches its presence in this book too. But, one can't ignore the melancholy tone trying to consume the characters. The story builds up very slowly, from the detailed Naxalbari movement which takes Udayan's life to the very picturesque depiction of Rhode Island, in USA, where Subhash makes his home.
Lahiri takes almost 250 pages (of the book) to give us a very comprehensive picture of how Udyaan's shadow is omnipresent in his brother's life. Subhash has married Gauri, Udayan's widow, and also decided to become a father to his daughter, Bela. From the very beginning, it's evident that the marriage won't work. Not because they are incompatible, but because the husband and wife are unable to sever ties with their past – Udayan.
It is in the last 100 odd pages, that the story jumps, rather jarringly, to cover the aging and now separated Subhash, Gauri, and their academic success), Bela, and their granddaughter, Meghana.
The only character, who shines and is not willing to let the dark circumstances surrounding her birth to overwhelm her, is Bela. Her father steals some of our sympathy, because Subhash, despite his perceived weakness, has spent his entire life trying to correct the wrong.
Gauri is perhaps more grey, than simply being labeled black or white. Lahiri's Gauri is fallible, guilt-ridden, has made more mistakes than the other two protagonist and that makes her more humane. She also gets some beautifully written lines to depict her angst and loneliness.
Guilt, little hope, idealism, sorrow and courage – results in letting a family bond together or break – and that's what you will find in The Lowland.