If you’ve read The Namesake or Unaccustomed Earth, then you know the way Jhumpa Lahiri navigates between parable and reality, the stunningly philosophical and the refreshingly banal.
Her newest, The Lowland, follows in this tradition, but it also shows a writer still very much evolving.
The Lowland begins in Calcutta in the late 1940s, with two thick-as-thieves brothers, Subhash and Udayan. Over the years, they drift apart: Subhash follows a traditional path of science and study, while Udayan embraces a radical Marxist movement and marries an “unacceptable” woman. Early in the novel (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler), Udayan dies and his wife, Gauri, is left alone and pregnant. And here’s where the story takes a dramatic turn: Subhash decides to marry his brother’s widow and raise the child as his own.
The tale is set in both hot, vibrant Calcutta and cold, dreary Rhode Island, and, in a way, these diametric landscapes are symbolic: the life Subhash and Gauri gave up and the choice to which they’ve now bound themselves. But Lahiri is also too smart for such neat dichotomies. We’re left unsure if their decision was the right one--we're merely along for the ride.