The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
A confession first: shamefully I’ve not read any of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work before, but after reading The Lowland, I’ll be seeking out her Pulitzer Prize winning short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies.
The Lowland is an ethically complicated story. It is the story of two brothers, born 15 months apart who grow up together in Calcutta – but their lives separate as adulthood begins. Udayan, wild and charismatic, becomes part of the Naxalite movement, a rebellion created to eradicate inequity and poverty. His brother, Subhash, is the more conservative and dutiful son, and does not share his brother’s political passion, leaving home to pursue a life of scientific research in America. But when Udayan is killed, Subhash travels home, after years away, to bring his brother’s wife back to the States with him.
The complexity of this ambitious tale lies with questions of loyalty and custom. What ideology, in either the West or the East, allows a family to move through a changing political scene to retain the very essence of faith and tradition? Lahiri’s work questions these boundaries of philosophy and family ties. By illustrating two paths taken, she does not resolve the question but does firmly enforce how the political is personal. This is a wonderful novel of intricacy and, overall, compassion for those caught in changing times.