Saturday, January 11, 2014
The Lowland begins with two brothers, Udayan and Subhash, who are only 15 months apart. For most of their lives, they have very few differences from each other. Subhash can't remember the first fifteen months of his life, and he feels he has always orbited around the vibrant, insatiable Udayan. However, as they grow older, Udayan becomes immersed in politics as Subhash's studies take him away from India to America. When Udayan's death brings Subhash back to Calcutta and the lowland near their childhood home, Subhash must learn to exist separately from the life Udayan left behind -- a task that may prove impossible for him.
Here's the thing about Jhumpa Lahiri's writing: It is stunningly sharp and beautiful. She writes artistically but with clarity, never letting her imagery overpower the sense of what she is writing. Here's the other thing, though: it is frequently somewhat depressing. Her stories do not shrink from the sadness and regret that can permeate life. There were moments in The Lowland where I felt stifled by the sameness of Subhash's life, the loneliness that stretches on for years. There were moments when I wasn't sure that I wanted to finish it, because it seemed impossible to reach a happy ending.
In some ways, it didn't reach a happy ending. The Lowland is not a fairy tale, and issues are not magically resolved by the perfect lover or a fairy godmother. The characters do not change the sticky, difficult parts of their personalities. However, the book does settle into a satisfying place. It takes time for the issues to settle, to become livable, and they never become easy, but they do become bearable. While I've never been one to actively seek out realism (you'll never find me arguing against escapism in reading) I appreciate the fact that The Lowland doesn't take the easy way out. The characters don't get out of their unimaginably difficult situations, but they find ways to live with them, ways to redeem them, albeit in an imperfect way.
All this to say, The Lowland is, as expected, another masterpiece from an author that is an auto-read for me. It is full of contradictions -- difficult to read the issues, pleasurable to read the words, not always satisfying, but coming to its own place of redemption.
Warnings: Some language, 2 brief sexual scenes, violence