Reading The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri was an experience. Whenever a book follows multiple generations of one family, it’s typically called a ‘saga’ because it explains to the reader that many years will pass within the pages of just one novel. For some, this may seem a bit daunting, and in the cases of some books, readers have good reason to be hesitant before diving into a saga as they are usually quite lengthy. The Lowland however, is a tightly-written saga, one that I never found myself growing bored with, even though it’s 400 pages long.
A lot of things happen in this book, and as many other reviews have pointed out, the foreshadowing is so deftly placed that it left me racing through the pages, dying to unlock the secrets that were referred to earlier. I’ll admit that the political background of the book went right over my head-I wasn’t familiar with the uprisings that it was referring to so I didn’t have existing knowledge to reference when it came to the the names of rebel groups, political figures, etc. However, any reader can relate to the environment and tone that these political situations can stir up, which is what made this narrative so powerful for me.
Early in the book the one of two sons of the family is killed because of his political ties and this causes a ripple effect in all the character’s lives, continuing to cause pain for generations to come. Although you don’t have a lot of time to get to know the two brothers as a pair, you immediately sense their closeness when you introduced to them, so the loss of one brother is felt keenly by the reader, which further develops the complications of his death and makes it that much more believable.
The fragility and challenges of parenting is also another major topic in the novel; the brother’s parents shut down once their one son passes and effectively ignore their other son for the remainder of their lives, right up until their deaths. Surprisingly, the living son does not drag that resentment into his own parenting experiences once his daughter is born, he makes the effort to be a constant and supportive presence in her life, never once blaming his own parents for their shortcomings. Instead, he harbors the regular anxieties that new parents always fret over, which made me second guess my earlier assumptions about his character. This is just one example of the depth in which Lahiri went to create her characters-they are all very unique and entirely believable, always keeping me guessing, which I really enjoyed.
This post has been unusually serious, but I really feel as though reading this book has forced me to look closely at why I really enjoyed reading it. It’s complicated yes, but worth the effort in slowing down and really taking in what was written on the page. Not surprisingly, this book was acclaimed by many different sources, and Lahiri herself won the Pulitzer Prize, so it’s no wonder I enjoyed reading The Lowland. In closing-clear some time in your schedule and sit down to read this book, you’ll thank me later!