Monday, January 6, 2014

The Lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
(Knopf / Books on Tape, 2013)
Format: audio via library (but I have a hardback, Mom, so I'll leave it on your desk for you) (narrated by Sunil Malhotra

From Goodreads: "Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel--set in both India and America--that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan--charismatic and impulsive--finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother's political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family's home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind--including those seared in the heart of his brother's wife."

I first read Lahiri only recently, which is incredibly lax of me given how much I've heard about her over the years. Oh, good gracious is she an amazing crafter of words! Her characters! I want them all in my life; I want to console them and counsel them and make their lives stronger, sooner, so they don't have to endure all the lovely-to-read-about struggles that keep me in thrall as I encounter them. 

This touched me for so many reasons - the evocative picture of Subhash's life in Maine, Udayan's passion and youth and the irrevocable paths it sets him upon, Subhash's definition of himself in both conjunction and opposition to his brother (my sister is 14 months younger than me; I know all about how true a portrait of that sibling relationship was, especially as they were growing up.) Lahiri has a knack for going in unexpected directions with her narrative, but for those paths to feel absolutely integral to the characters and their situations. As much as I loved Subhash (I mean, seriously loved - what a deeply drawn guy), my moment of devastation came at the end, a flashback when Udayan is separated from his brother, and the lowland of the title is witness to some moments that define, well, everything else that happens in the book. It's just stunning.

Sunil Malhotra is perfect for this audio. I enjoyed him as Park in Eleanor & Park, but the adult voices suit his narrative style better. He has a steady, clear, almost wistful tone that really brought Subhash's point of view to life. It was a great listen, for a great book.

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