When I saw the new book by Jhumpa Lahiri, I was tempted to buy it. But I felt that it might just land up on my bookshelf, like all her other books, without being read. Why? Because, I had neither the time nor the inclination to read them, maybe because I felt they would be very serious books being nominated for various prizes. Anyways, I ordered “The Lowland” and when I saw it, I said, I must read it and I did.
The Back Cover:
Two brothers bound by tragedy.
A fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past.
A country torn by revolution.
A love that can last long past death.
Subhash and Udayan Mitra are two brothers, fifteen months apart, Subhash being the older one. The story starts when Subhash is thirteen. Their father is a clerk in the Indian Railways and they live in Calcutta very close to the Tolly Club and sneak in there at dusk after the golfers have left. Since childhood, Subhash is the cautious one while Udayan was the active one. They look similar, have similar voices and wear clothes from the same pile, thus confusing others. They study in the same class in the same school but attend different colleges, Subhash studying chemical engineering and Udayan, physics. After post-graduation, they start tuitions to help in the family income. Udayan gets drawn by the Naxalite movement and is satisfied with an ordinary occupation but Subhash goes to America to do his PhD and supports his. They write to each other rarely and Subhash comes to know that Udayan has married Gauri against their parents’ wishes.
He comes back to India after his brother’s death and as the dutiful son and brother, marries Gauri, to protect her and brings her back to Rhode Island. He gives her freedom to do as she desires. She has a daughter, Bela, with whom Subhash feels the same closeness with Bela, which he felt with Udayan. Gauri is selfish and indifferent as a mother. She studies philosophy and is more protective towards her manuscript than her own daughter.
Subhash comes to visit his mother, after his father’s death, with Bela, who is now twelve. When he comes back, his world changes and so does his life.
The author has referred more than seventy years of the life of Subhash Mitra, as a baby, a young boy, a responsible son, brother, husband and father. The protagonists change as the book proceeds, first it is Subhash, then Gauri and then their daughter, Bela. The relationship between the brothers has been depicted beautifully as has the Indian-American immigrant experience. I felt for Subhash, the father, who loves Bela despite everything and for Bela, who suffers, for no fault of her.
A very serious piece of literature, deeply emotional; no wonder it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2013.
Book Source: Bought
Publisher: Vintage Books/ Random House India