Wednesday, March 12, 2014

THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri

The novel opens with 2 young brothers, Udayan and Subhash, sneaking onto the grounds of an English golf course in Calcutta in the 1960s.  The two are inseparable until they head off to separate colleges.  Their lives diverge even further when Subhash departs for Rhode Island to continue his studies, while Udayan remains in India as a political activist.  I found it interesting that Udayan, the younger and more daring of the two, is the one who stays behind, while Subhash, the older and more dutiful brother, is the one who breaks away.  Subhash finds that Americans, caught up in civil rights issues and protests against the war in Vietnam, are not even aware of the unrest in India.  Meanwhile, violence is building in India, and we readers must guess as to what extent Udayan is involved.  He writes to Subhash that he has taken a wife of his own choosing, Gauri, and moved in with his and Subhash's parents, who expected to choose their sons' wives for them.  Unforeseen events cause Subhash's and Gauri's lives to become entangled, and the resulting triangle is not what you might think, as both are fiercely loyal to Udayan.  This novel beautifully tackles a variety of family issues, but especially guilt, and how that guilt plays out in family relationships.  Toward the end of the book, we find that guilt haunts Gauri in particular, whose actions in India seem to have had a domino effect, in that she commits another transgression that brings on even more guilt.  She and her daughter Bela both choose to lead unencumbered lives, in a way, but Gauri's choices are more difficult to understand. Despite this being largely a book about two brothers, she is the enigmatic character here and the one whose persona I really wanted to explore.

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