When Deepa poured Bela some water from the urn that stood on a little stool, in the corner of the room, her grandmother reproached her.
Not that water. Give her the boiled water. She’s not made to survive here.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Summary: Two brothers, only 15 months apart, are close as can be. They are also very different. One moves to the U.S. in pursue of higher education, ready to have an arranged marriage. The other, surrenders himself to politics and marries for love. But a tragic event changes the course of their lives, creating a ripple that turns into waves of more than 30 years of living.
Review: I really enjoyed the Namesake, but not so much the collection of short stories. I thought it was because I usually don’t like short stories. But “The Lowland” was only just good, and now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s Lahiri’s writing style.
My favorite aspect of her books is the way she describes the journey of the characters, using specific descriptions and locations. From Calcutta to Rhode Island, California to Ireland, Lahiri paints a picture that made me feel like I was right there with the characters. The descriptions are not just the objective truth, but rather how the character views what they are seeing. Such as a young girl’s view of Calcutta was different from Gauri’s return to her homeland.
I enjoyed the general plot line, and applaud Lahiri for breaking down gender roles and refusing to put her character’s in a box. It offends many people to see a South Asian women enjoying sex, but that is a reality that shouldn’t be ignored. She crafted her plot and character’s very carefully. Even Gauri, who I could not sympathize with, was meticulously written.
However, meticulously written plot and characters lead to the loss of the emotion of the story. That is what happened in this book. Lahiri was very specific with her descriptions, but I did not feel connected to her characters. I realize that a theme of her novels is the disconnect people feel with each other, especially when immigrants, but that does not mean the reader should feel disconnected from the characters and the story. Whereas, in the Namesake, I understood Ashima’s struggles to find her place in a world she didn’t understand, I did not feel the same way about Bela or Gauri.
She also got some of her facts wrong. For instance, 13 days of war in Bangladesh? 9 months. Yes, India didn’t get involved till later, but the war was a lot longer than India’s involvement.
I don’t like short stories typically, and this book read like a long short story. As a lot of her fans love her short stories, maybe that is the problem here. I only recommend this book to hardcore Lahiri fans, or those who love short stories.
Sex: References to touching and sex. Blunt, but not graphic.
Violence: Police brutality
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars