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The Lowland (2013)
par Jhumpa Lahiri
Booker Prize (70)
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Wonderful, beautiful novel.
Family saga set in India and the US, this book starts in the 1950s as a story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, living in Kolkata with their parents. Though close in age, their temperaments differ significantly. Subhash is introspective while Udayan is impulsive. Udayan becomes involved in the Naxalilte movement. Subhash moves to the US to pursue a doctoral program. At this point, a significant shift takes place. A tragedy occurs. One brother takes a selfless action to help the other brother’s wife, Guari. It then becomes a story about a mother who abandons her young child and husband.
The setup to this novel spurred my curiosity, but I found the structure unsatisfying. It shifts suddenly in time and frequently changes protagonists, making it feel choppy. It is a character-driven novel, but the characters are not developed in enough depth to understand their motivations, which are hard to accept and never explained. The characters do not exhibit much growth, though the storyline covers over fifty years.
The first half is stronger than the second. The dramatic events of the early pages give way to a mundane tale of daily living. It picks up again toward the end, returning to the original storyline and providing a few insights. The prose is stellar, but overall, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. I have also read Lahiri’s The Namesake, which I vastly prefer to this one.
On Lennon's birthday April 22nd, 1969, a third Communist party was launched in Calcutta. The members called themselves naxalites, in honor of what had happened at naxalbari. The official name was the Communist party of india, marxist - leninist. The CPI(ml).
"Theirs was a new form of communism, ,Sanyal declared. They would be headquartered in the villages. By the year 2000, that is only 31 years from now, the people of the whole world will be liberated from all kinds of exploitation of Man by man and will celebrate the worldwide victory of marxism, leninism, mao TSE Tung's thought."
That is a very sad declaration, since the powers that be have decided we should go towards fascism.
Subash, once he finishes his undergrad in calcutta, goes to study his graduate degree in Rhode island. He finds that he loves this place, with all its wide open spaces.
Walking on one of his numerous walks by the shoreline, one day subhash meets a white girl, holly, and her son. Little by little they begin a romance. But the day holly dumps him, he gets all butthurt.
"She had caught him in his own web, telling him what he already knew. He realized he would never visit her cottage again. The gift of the binoculars, so that they would no longer have to share; he understood the reason for this, too.
He could not blame her; she had done him a favor by ending it. And yet he was furious with her for being the one to decide.
We can remain friends, subhash. You could use a friend.
He told her he had heard enough, that he was not interested in remaining friends. He told her that, when the ferry reached the port in galilee, he would wait for a bus to take him home. He told her not to call him.
On the ferry they sat separately. He took out Udayan's letter, reading it once again. But when he was finished, standing on the deck, he tore it into pieces, and let them escape his hands."
When he gets home, he finds a telegram, saying that Udayan has been killed. He goes home to Calcutta.
This book jumps around in timelines. Takes you forever to find out what happened sometimes. But Udayan was killed by the police for his involvement in the Communist party.
Subhash marries his brother's widow, Gauri, knowing that his parents only want Udayan's child. He brings her to Rhode Island.
This book cracks me up, because the timeline takes place in the 20th century, when people smoked all over the place. But you forget about this, so passages like this at first make you open your eyes wide in astonishment:
"the professor was dressed casually, in a sweater and jeans. He smoked cigarettes as he lectured. He had a thick brown mustache, long hair like many of the male students. He had not bothered to call the roll.
Students around her were also smoking, or knitting. A few had their eyes closed. There was a couple at the back, with their legs pressed together, the boy's arm draped around the girl's waist, stroking the material of her sweater."
This is where Gauri starts visiting the University where subhash is studying. She wanders into a philosophy lecture hall one day, which was her subject in Calcutta, before her studies were cut short by marrying udayan.
I hated the character of gauri. She has baby bela, but she feels like she has no interest in her. This was the opposite of what I felt for my babies.
"Play with me, Bela would say.
At times gauri capitulated, holding on to a book she was reading, stealing glances while it was Bela's turn. She played, but it was never enough.
You're not paying attention, Bela protested, when gauri's mind strayed.
She sat on the carpet, conscious of Bela's reproach. She knew that a sibling might relieve her of the responsibility to entertain Bela this way. She knew that this was partly what motivated people to have more than one child."
When subhash brings 10-year-old Bela to India, after his father dies, they return to find that Gauri has fled the house, just leaving a note that tells nothing of where she's gone.
Bela grows up, and takes up a nomad's life.
Years later, so much time has passed, but Bela shows up at subhash's house, tells him she's pregnant, and asks if she can stay there.
He realizes it's time to tell her that he's not her real father, and tell her the circumstances of his coming to play that role.
He tells Bela the story of her father's death:
"As the night wore on and the information settled over her, she asked a few questions about the circumstances of udayan's death. She asked a bit about the movement, of which she was ignorant, and was now curious; this was all.
Was he guilty of anything?
Certain things. Your mother never told me the full story.
Well, what did she tell you?
He told her the truth, that Udayan had plotted violent acts, that he had assembled explosives. But he added that after all these years it remained uncertain, the extent of what he had done.
Did he know about me? Did he know I was going to be born?
She sat across from him, listening. Somewhere in the house, he told her, there were a few letters he'd saved, that Udayan had sent to him. Letters that referred to gauri as his wife.
He offered to read them to bela, but she shook her head. Her face was implacable. Now that he'd come back to life, he was a stranger to her."
Bela takes off, he finds out the next morning. He's afraid he'll never see her again, but he's wrong.
I read the author's other book, "interpreter of maladies", in 2012, and gave it four stars, so I obviously liked it a bit more than this book. However, I didn't start writing my thoughts and connections about books until about 2017, so I don't know what I thought about it. I just didn't like the characters that much in this book, and I couldn't relate to the setting of Rhode Island. I do like reading about india, though.
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The Lowland is a novel about the rashness of youth, as well as the hesitation and regret that can make a long life not worth living.
Darkly hued fiction is commonplace in contemporary writing, but The Lowlands is sombre in a distinctly old-fashioned way; it’s not late-stage capitalism and/or environmental collapse that generate the misery in the novel, but rather that quaint concept of fate, or at least character-as-fate. Which is one reason why contemporary readers might balk at this story, its position on the shortlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize notwithstanding. These lives seem rigged.
There is real story bravery at work here. It would have been much easier for Lahiri to keep us in the thrust and heave of political agitation — to fixate, perhaps, on the implied betrayal woven into Subhash’s rescue.
Instead, in “The Lowland,” Lahiri tells a quietly devastating story about the nature of kindness. How it is never pure and often goes largely unrewarded. It simply is, and then the floodwaters rise and obscure its role in the landscape for a time.
Her prose, as always, is a miracle of delicate strength, like those threads of spider silk that, wound together, are somehow stronger than steel....
Although writing this fine is easy to praise, it’s not always easy to enjoy. And there’s something naggingly synthetic about this tableau of woe. “They were a family of solitaries,” Lahiri writes. “They had collided and dispersed.” But real people are not such shiny billiard balls of sorrow. I couldn’t shake the impression that Subhash and Gauri are being subjected to the author’s insistence on creating a certain sustained effect, as though they were characters in a fable. The years pass like the pages of a calendar being blown between scenes of a silent movie. Every time we catch up with this sad couple, they seem not to have changed at all, except that the plaque of guilt and secrecy has grown thicker. The ordinary complications of daily life do not dilute their desolation or complicate their lives. Gauri spends decades studying philosophy, but somehow the world’s accumulated wisdom never offers her any solace or disruption or insight. She might as well have been studying accounting or geology.
Perhaps these are petty complaints about a book that’s written with such poignancy. If parts of “The Lowland” feel static, it’s also true that Lahiri can accelerate the passage of time in moments of terror with mesmerizing effect.
Lahiri has an uncanny ability to control and mold sentences and action, imbuing the characters with dignity and restraint. But for me, this was also the novel's weakness; too often the narration felt cold, almost clinical, leaving me longing for a moment of thaw. I felt ambivalent. It's an intelligently structured book and while the tone and the pace rarely vary, the reader is always sure she is in the hands of a writer of integrity and skill. Yet I still yearned to know more about these people, especially Gauri....
Lahiri is an accomplished writer and though I felt, at times, disappointed, in the end I was sure that there is an important truth here — that life often denies us understanding, and sometimes all there is to hold on to is our ability to endure.
Références à cette œuvre sur des ressources externes.
Wikipédia en anglais (1)
National Book Award Finalist Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of The Namesake comes an extraordinary new novel, set in both India and America, that expands the scope and range of one of our most dazzling storytellers: a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death. Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. 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 goes 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. Masterly suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a work of great beauty and complex emotion; an engrossing family saga and a story steeped in history that spans generations and geographies with seamless authenticity. It is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers. From the Hardcover edition.
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Classification décimale de Melvil (CDD)813.54 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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The Lowlands tells the tale of two brothers whose lives take two very divergent paths - - but who remain connected by one woman. It's a saga in the sense that it covers the brothers' lives from young childhood through old age/death.
I wanted to love this book. I've really, really enjoyed all of Lahiri's other works. This book is more of a "critics darling" in my opinion. It's beautifully written, and Lahiri deftly traverses time, place, and point of view. Her writing is both simple and yet very evocative.
Yet something was missing.
I felt that the pace was just a bit too slow and that the book lacked suspense. One brother was a character you could really embrace, but it was hard to care about the fates of the other characters . . .even though I thought they were portrayed realistically. They just weren't very sympathetic.
It really would have been a three star read for me overall except that the last several chapters were much more compelling, and I ended up feeling glad that I had read the book. If we had a 3.5 rating, I'd truly be using that . . .but since we don't, I rounded up to 4 stars.
Overall, if you like Lahiri, AND you really like literary fiction, I would say keep this book on your TBR. If you are looking for entertainment, I'd say steer clear. ( )