Book Review: Fiction/ The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Random House, p.340; Rs495 (Hardback)
Jhumpa Lahiri has been established as a prominent literary voice, with her previous works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake and the recent one, Unaccustomed Earth. And now, her latest novel, The Lowland, is giving her unprecedented acclaim and readership—besides offering a short overture with the Booker Prize.
The Lowland is a kind of intelligent work, which is consciously written in the two frames of mind. Sometime, they are in proportion—sometime they are not; nevertheless it makes the narratives able to continue with the spontaneous choices of the author.
The first half of the book reflexes Jhumpa’s greater intimacy with the scenario and characters set in Calcutta of troubled 1960s. Doing this, she becomes a formidable chronicler of Naxal upsurge and a family, devastated through its consequences. Though another half seems less coherent, where the major portion of the book rests in the US surprisingly, Jhumpa appears a better catcher of intricate realities of India rather the US, where she has spent more time.
The bondage of boundaries is frail here, not allowing the book being in the grasp of simpler convictions. Rather the quest is to look into the complexity of the matters, which made the family corresponding with tragedies without shock or awe. This is realistic as the fighting or giving up to the odd circumstances never follows a particular pattern—the ‘variance in approach’, what inspires to be collected for coming in terms with the wider truths.
The novel is about the two inseparable brothers: Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who at the same time have different orientations. Udayan, a more impulsive idealist, gets attracted towards the Naxalite movement just like other youth of his generation.
The brutality in action was shaped so accurately by the state authority, the movement not only died but permanently scared the ‘culture of dissent’. Still, the earth’s largest democratic skeletal is being confronted with the resistance, quite often than not.
Subhash, a dreamer and doer type feel drawn to the life in the academic circle of the US—then a dream place for the detached souls from the cramped third world. He returns to see his grieving family, following the death of brother, who was both different and alike to him. Time spent at home, feeds him with nostalgia and sense for getting involved with his family, which seemed drifting apart.
Parent living a certain kind of shock chose to be less sensitive for Gauri, Udayan’s wife. Subhash shares her grief and responsibility, by coming into matrimonial term to give the child a secure future. Immigration of Gauri to the US empowered her to forget Calcutta but not Udayan. Her feeling were fallen and found no particular reasons to establish a normal leniency for Subhash or her estrange daughter.
Her change of mind and existence are juxtaposing her own self. Consequently, her perils are independent and somewhere directionless. The cultural degradation following the alienation among the different core family members creates a void among the lives. The alienation also grows to the level, where the significance of places and cultural attributes dwindle, and get no proper space in the cognition order of characters.
The exile leaves a heavy toll on Subhash and others, so fiercely to be not approached by the constructive interludes. Jhumpa has succeeded to make a fine balance between complex emotion and bitter turnout of the situation, through a rare elegance in expression.
V S Naipaul’s idea of knowing the quality of fiction, based on gender rather substance is fitted to be fail—he too may sense it, if he gets time to read this highly engaging work of a writer, with immaculate sensibility and no preoccupations for the locale. Jhumpa is cosmic, and hence an Indian too.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Rising Kashmir on October25,2013)