Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri tells the story of Indian brothers whose choices raise questions about sacrifice, love, and the price of freedom.
Two brothers – one cautious and shy, the other audacious and daring – grow up inseparable in 1960s Calcutta in Jhumpa Lahiri’s somber but formidable second novel, The Lowland.Skip to next paragraph
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Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for her short-story collection “The Interpreter of Maladies,” and her first novel, “The Namesake,” was turned into a movie. “The Lowland” has been nominated for two of literature’s biggest prizes: It is a finalist for Great Britain's Man Booker Prize and last week was named to the longlist of the National Book Award.
Lahiri is an expert in writing about dislocation – the feeling immigrants can have of being simultaneously two places at once and not necessarily belonging to either. “At times it terrified her that she felt so entwined and also so alone," one character thinks of life at home with her baby. Here again, her characters struggle with emotional isolation, no matter how much they might love one another.
Udayan, the younger and more favored son, drags Subhash with him on adventures such as sneaking onto the golf course of the Tolly Club. In addition to grass as soft as moss, the golf course offers a number of features unknown to US courses, such as water buffalo, jackals, and egrets. (Subhash, of course, is the one who gets punished when they’re caught.)
“He was blind to self-constraints, like an animal incapable of perceiving certain colors,” Lahiri writes of Udayan.
The younger boy’s footprints are commemorated in concrete in front of the house, “the most enduring of Udayan’s transgressions.” Unwilling to sit inside, as the boys had been told to do, until the courtyard set, he ran across a plank and slipped, “the evidence of his path forming impressions of the soles of his feet, tapering like an hourglass at the center, the pads of the toes disconnected.”
Careful Subhash doesn’t leave a trace. He "strove to minimize his existence, as other animals merged with bark or blades of grass.”
Then the two go off to different universities and their closeness vanishes. Udayan joins a militant Communist group and marries against his parents’ wishes, while Subhash studies marsh grass in Rhode Island and waits for his parents to choose him a wife.
“He didn’t belong, but perhaps it didn’t matter,” Subhash thinks of Rhode Island. “That it was here, in this minute but majestic corner of the world, that he could breathe.”
Nonetheless, he fully expects to leave the New England coast behind out of duty to his family.
Udayan’s bland, careful letters to his brother reflect nothing of the boy Subhash knew. While Subhash can tell Udayan is concealing something, he assumes they’ll resume their relationship once he finishes his studies in the US and returns to India. Then a tragedy strikes the family and Subhash returns home to find a scene he never expected.