The Lowland is a family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death.
Jhumpa Lahiri is an elegant stylist, effortlessly placing the perfect words in the perfect order time and again so we’re transported seamlessly into another place … In her new novel, The Lowland, it’s the 1960s, and violent revolution has come to Calcutta and America, with reverberations to be felt by generations to come. Every family story is somehow a war story; Lahiri has a talent for coolly illustrating this truth … What happens to Udayan in the lowland is the spark that ignites the novel. Subhash’s forced return and the discovery that the woman his brother has defiantly married is also pregnant will launch him into the battle of his life.
Nothing extreme, nothing unmannerly; it’s all a little bit gray, as if the novel itself were as determined as Subhash to refuse any moment of emotional crisis. That makes Lahiri sound cautious, and in reading her I have in fact sometimes wished she would break her own rules, and allow herself to flower into extravagance. Yet restraint has a daring of its own, and The Lowland is her finest work so far … Lahiri takes no explicit position, and reading The Lowland made me recall one of Stendhal’s most famous aphorisms: politics in a novel are like a pistol shot in the middle of a concert. They are entirely out of place but impossible to ignore, and though Lahiri herself has put those politics in, she also wants us to look away from them, to concentrate on the spectators instead of the struggle around the gun.
Lahiri shies from tackling the necessary tangles and messes of a novel. It is that clinical short-story writer's genius, a sort of die-hard cleanliness and thoroughness, that dooms this novel. All endings are bound and rebound and finally hung up neatly as a flat, cold, dead but still somehow beautiful thing for detached viewing … Every story line is tiresomely followed until dead end, and the final third of the book is all downwind resolution, overwrought and exhausted, as if in complete misunderstanding of the novel form. The plots are largely overdone and overdone in a flat register, creating a sort of novel as lecture in parts.