Friday, February 21, 2014

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Two brothers, born in Calcutta in the 1940’s, are close in age but miles apart in temperament. Subhash, the older, is responsible and obedient while his brother, Udayan, is brash and passionate. The apolitical Subhash leaves India to attend graduate school in Rhode Island but returns after Udayan is killed by police for his radical political activities. Because he is unhappy with the bleak future his brother’s pregnant young widow faces in India, he marries her and takes her back to Rhode Island. Here Gauri gives birth to a baby girl, Bela, whom Subhash regards as a daughter rather than a niece. But Gauri cannot invest herself in this family. Despite his kindness and self-sacrifice, she cannot accept Subhash as a substitute for the soul mate who had been her first husband. She is unhappy and distant toward both him and Bela, preferring academic studies to motherhood. Subhash cannot try enough for the both of them and eventually the family separates in such a brutal way they can never reconcile. Yet life moves along. Gauri finds a career in academia in California and Subhash continues his career in Rhode Island. Bela, without knowing the story of her biological father, becomes a rebel in her own way, rootless, traveling across the country to promote sustainable agriculture but always anchored to Subash, her devoted “father”. The Lowland is a story of immigration and assimilation. But Gauri, burdened with anger and self-absorption, would have been as unhappy as a traditional Indian wife as she was as a displaced American one.

Check out The Lowland @ the library!