The Lowland is about two brothers who come of age in the 1950s and 1960s in Calcutta. Their paths diverge when one brother becomes involved in the Naxalite movement in the late 1960s and the second brother moves to the United States. The book is about the consequences of each of their choices- which spans over five decades and haunts generations.
The Lowland is emblematic of Lahiri’s characteristic style- Bengali roots, the second-generation immigrant experience, inter-generational conflict. Some other themes that The Lowland grasped particularly well include what it means to be a parent and that not all adults are cut out for parenthood, and violence- literal physical violence as well as emotional hostility perpetrated within families. It is about love, loss, separation, and about loyalty, and abandonment.
Lahiri is economical and dilligent, seldom does a sentence feel unnessary or blithe. For me, The Lowland is Lahiri’s most moving work yet.
How I Discovered It
My Favorite Quotes
“He wondered if it was a lack of courage, or of imagination, that prevented him from believing in it. If the deficits he’d always been conscious of were what prevented hom from sharing his brother’s political faith.”
“Subhash didn’t know how to describe India’s fractious politics, its complicated society, to an American. He said it was an ancient place that was also young, still struggling to know itself.”
“She wanted to shut her eyes to it. She wished the days and months ahead of her would end. But the rest of her life continued to present itself, time ceaselessly proliferating. She was made to anticipate it against her will. There was the anxiety that one day would not follow the next, combined with the certainty that it would. It was like holding her breath, as Udayan had tried to do in the lowland. And yet somehow she was breathing. Just as time stood still but was also passing, some other part of her body that she was unaware of was now drawing oxygen, forcing her to stay alive.”
Some Sentences I Highlighted
A turn leads to a quiet enclave. A warren of narrow lanes and modest middle-class homes.
Bismillah, a neighbour, worked as a caddy at the club.
Udayan quoted what the Chinese press had predicted: The spark in Darjeeling will start a prairie fire and will certainly set the vast expanses of India ablaze.
But Udayan said that golf was the pastime of the comprador bourgeoisie.
On Lenin’s birthday, April 22, 1969, a third communist party was launched in Calcutta. The members called themselves Naxalites, in honor of what had happened at Naxalbari.
Isolated on the ship with the scientists and other students and crew, he felt doubly alone. Unable to fathom his future, severed from his past.
He was ravenous for the simple meal: dal and slices of fried bitter melon, rice and fish stew. Sweet pabda fish from the river, their cooked eyes like yellow pebbles.
An hour often passed without their speaking. The shared quiet fell over them, binding them more tightly than any conversation could.
Policemen and soldiers stood here and there, in their khaki uniforms and helmets. Not many, but enough of them to form a loose constellation wherever she looked.
Bela will never marry, she knows this about herself. The unhappiness between her parents: this has been the most basic awareness of her life.