The Lowland

In her second novel, The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri builds on her previous themes of the Indian-American immigrant experience with her trademark clear, gorgeous language. The story spans 70 years, opening with two brothers in Calcutta. Subhash, the older boy, is cautious and reserved; the younger, Udayan, is the charming risk-taker. Subhash goes to the United States for university, while Udayan makes a love match to marry Gauri and becomes a political revolutionary. Later, when Udayan sacrifices everything for his beliefs, Subhash returns to India, stepping into Udayan's life try to heal the wounds he left behind, and eventually brings a pregnant Gauri back to the U.S. with him.

With a story spanning generations and continents, The Lowland is epic in scope, but, through sheer technical wizardry, Lahiri also creates a story shimmering with the interplay of time and memory. The intimate, close-up look at the characters in India, where small gestures reveal everything, gradually gives way to a wide-angled and panoramic view, as though the narrative camera zooms back to encompass the vast American backdrop while moving through time. In the final two chapters, the characters are shown at such a remove they are not identified, but we know them so well now names are unnecessary.

If this sleight of hand sometimes comes at the expense of an immediate emotional connection to Lahiri's characters, The Lowland is nevertheless a gorgeous novel, unexpected and ambitious, full of hope and longing--a novel to savor. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

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