Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Lowland....The Story Which Moved Me!

Jhumpa Lahiri being awarded National Humanities Medal for her book, 'The Lowland'
I just finished reading this novel, 'The Lowland' by Jhumpa Lahiri and I have to mention that this is the first book I read in Kindle! I never expected to finish the book so fast, without turning pages....looking back and glancing at the later pages, sometimes the last page (!) too! I didn't even know how many pages the book had and on which page I was reading! It was a bit frustrating in the beginning.  Well, I got used to holding just one frame in my hand and reading, after sometime! All thanks to my son, who pushed me into it again and again!

As soon as I finished reading, I told my son that I liked the book a lot and he gave me the news about Obama reading the same book during his holiday break and Jhumpa being awarded the National Humanities Medal! I was thrilled.  I am reading a book after a long time! I used to be an avid reader long back, you know!

This book, published in 2013 was a nominee for the prestigious 'Man Booker Prize'.  She had won the 'Pulitzer prize for fiction' for her debut book, 'Interpreter of Maladies' in 1999.  She is an American whose parents came from West Bengal.  Her mother tries to be connected to her routes and takes her children to Kolkata often.  I have read her book 'Namesake', a few years back and liked it.  I saw the movie which was based on this novel too.  The characters in both the stories are from Kolkata, later migrated to America.  Their complexes, insecurities and basic intelligence...everything is explained beautifully in both the novels.  I am yet to read her short stories.

Now, to the story and how I felt about the characters.  Read the book first (it is worth reading!) and then read my views pl. SPOILER ALERT!

The main story revolves around 2 brothers, a wife, their daughter.  The happenings in their lives are narrated individually, in their own angle...going back and forth.  Takes sometime to know who is narrating the story in that chapter, at times!

The story starts from the early 60's in Calcutta, India, when the Naxalbari movement started.  The state of the parents who are typical middle class people and their 2 school going sons.  She details about their closeness, esp. the brothers' to each other.  The elder one is very straight forward, simple, a little introvert and the younger one always curious, an extrovert...the elder brother admires him. 

The seed for rebel is sown when the brothers go to the Tollygunge club (by jumping over the wall) for collecting used golf balls and selling them at cheap rates.  One day a policeman catches them and beats the elder brother, Subhash and admonishes him.  The younger brother, Udayan, never forgets it.   The author explains the day to day affairs of a middle class family in detail, their cooking, living style etc.  Bengalis are famous for cooking/consuming fish!

Later, Subhash finishes his college and shifts to the U.S. to study Oceanography.  The younger one becomes a rebel slowly and joins the Naxalite movement.  First he starts preparing and giving speeches and then changes to hardcore rebellion.  He teaches the children in slums, goes and stays there with them to know about their lives.  On normal days, he is a simple teacher.  He meets a girl Gauri who is intelligent and still in college.  He marries her later but uses her for his rebel activities and she goes along without the full knowledge of what she is doing.

Subhash is in Rhode Island which is near Boston (Juhmpa Lahiri grew up here and still teaches in a college here and this explains her giving minute details of the place in the story).  He has got very limited contact with his parents (no easy phone connections in those days i.e. 60's..) except letters from his brother.  He cooks for himself and is studious in his studies like all Indians are! He meets a single mother with a child and had a short fling with her.   He is settling down with the American way of life.  But sends money to his parents without fail.

Then slowly their lives change.  Udayan gets involved in his Naxal activities more and is killed by the local police.  Subhash comes home now and notices how badly Udayan's wife is treated by his parents.  And she is pregnant with Udayan's child. He feels sorry for her and asks her to come to the US as his wife and continue her studies. 

Then their life in the US and the story with their daughter, Bela starts.  How she becomes indifferent with Subhash and Bela is narrated in a detailed manner.  This is done via Subhash's angle and then Gauri's angle.  We come to know about the lifestyle of a child, her school, their neighbours, friends etc. also via Bela. 

When Subash's father dies, he returns to India with his daughter after nearly 7-8 years.  Gauri has already become a loner and refuses to join him to India.  His mother didn't approve of his marriage to Gauri and Bela has no knowledge of who her real father was. Bela is very close to Subhash than Gauri.  Bela comes to India for the first time and fascinated by the crowd and the lifestyle of her people. 

When he returned back, Gauri had already left home.  The shock changes the attitude of Bela.  She narrates about how she felt at this stage later in the story.  She drifts away from her father also slowly...their independent way of life continues...everything is detailed in their individual angle beautifully.  Slowly Bela also becomes closer to the downtrodden people, like her original father, Udayan without knowing about it.  She becomes more independent now.

Subhash goes back to India when his mother is very sick.  Feels guilty about not taking care of her properly all these years, he stays with her for sometime and returns after she dies. 

Now, the story is narrated in Gauri and then Bela's angle.  We come to know why Gauri's attitude changed towards her husband and daughter and how it affected the daughter. I was a bit slow in reading in the beginning because the plot was being laid for the main story, which naturally, was not very interesting.  Then, my reading became faster. 

I loved the way she narrated the individual characters' feelings in detail.  We relate to it, a lot...nowadays, many sons are going abroad for higher studies and settle down there, mostly in the U.S. The lifestyle over there and the climatic conditions doesn't allow the parents to go there and be with them.  Now, many groups have formed here of parents whose children are abroad.  They help each other in need.  So, the story, the details of the living style of the children, make the parents understand the children more and vice versa, I think. 

This is a 'must read' novel, I feel.  Start reading....!



Destination Infinity said...

I'd like to read her books someday. Glad to know you liked reading the book on Kindle. I used to love reading on Kindle, but now I listen to the narration of books using a Text-to-Speech app (FB Reader) on Android phone!

Destination Infinity

Sandhya said...

DESTINATION INFINITY: That is nice. My brother in law 'hears' stories like like that!
Yes, her books are good. Thank you, Rajesh!

sm said...

havent read this book
nice review

Anonymous said...

I've read the Namesake - long time back.
Good to see you're reading on Kindle !! YAY!! Enjoy reading more books :)
This one...I'm yet to read.

pallpakk said...

Kindle reading is addictive! Its so easy to download books that I finish one and immediately start on the next one! Happy reading.

Sandhya said...

sm: Thank you, sm!

UMSREFLECTIONS: This book also is good! Read sometime!

PALLPAKK: Thank you, Pallavi! I feel comfortable reading kindle now! Many books are there, already, for me to read!

Locomente said...

I have her books... unread though...
Your post makes me want to read it soon :)
Thanks for sharing!

Bikramjit Singh Mann said...

I have seen the movie Namesake .. and will definitely see if i can get hold of this book :)

thank you for sharing


Jeevan said...

I have read couple of book on Kindle app (not the gadget) using my mini tab... btw. The book sounds interesting, because I like reading different lifestyle of people and learning about their living environment. So I guess I would like reading this book.

Thanks for writing

Rama Ananth said...

Even I want to buy a Kindle, which is the best. How much did it cost you?
The book sounds interesting, must read it.

SG said...

This is a good book. I have read it.

Sandhya said...


BIKRAM: I liked the book and the movie, Namesake! They might make this into a movie too!

JEEVAN: Detailed description of the Bengali lifestyle and then a little bit of American lifestyle is narrated here beautifully! You will like it!

RAMA ANANTH: Son got it. I don't know the cost. This is one year old, 'Voyager'.

SG: Happy to know that you loo liked it!

Ramakrishnan said...

Jhumpa is a good compelling writer ! She deserves every award & recognition bestowed on her! Glad you have taken to kindle reading. I have been on kindle for a few years now.Gifted by my daughter but now I am my kindle are never separated :)

Renu said...

I love Jhumpa lahiri;s books and rad most of them ,including this one. Ia dmire you the way you wrote the whole story, I have no patience for that, I write the review in 6 lines:)..I like to read about every regions typical life style,be it bengali or south Indian, so whenevr i get my hands on any such book, I grab it.

rudraprayaga said...

I'll be reading it.Nice writeup about it.

Haddock said...

The early 60's in Calcutta must be really interesting.
Have yet to read a book on Kindle.

Sai Charan said...

Interesting story and glad to hear you have read it on Kindle :)

I've never read a book on an e-reader/tablet/kindle, did you feel strain in your eyes after finishing the book, did you take enough gaps, wish to know your experience compared to a paper book :)

Thank you for the review, I will read her books when I get the opportunity :)

Take Care,

Onkar said...

Nice review

Sandhya said...

RAMAKRISHNAN RAMANATHAN: I have read her 'Name sake' and watched the movie of the same title too and liked both. Now, must read her other books. I like her writing style! Kindle might be my favourite too some day!

RENU: I liked this book and so wrote in detail, after giving the 'spoiler alert' warning! I too like to know the lifestyles of other people from other regions esp. from our country!

RUDRAPRAYAGA: Thank you, Rudraprayaga! You will like it, I am sure! You have got a unique name!

HADDOCK: The writer seems to have researched well...we come to know about so many happenings in those years and the lifestyle of the people, their nature etc. This is my first book in kindle!

SAI CHARAN: It took sometime to adjust to reading without turning pages and holding it in one hand. I was worried about missing pages, but no, it stays there whenever we open it! Only thing is it is difficult to go back to check something or jump forward to peek into the ending! We don't know how many pages we have covered or how many more pages are there! Well, I think I will continue reading in kindle!

ONKAR: Thank you, Onkar!

Mrs TJ said...

I too have read a few of her novels.. I esp like the interpreter of maladies.. excellent book.. This has been on my to-read list.. hope to read it sometime soon.. I am also planning on buying the kindle.. The stack of books are ever growing and when I dump them in the loft they are almost forgotten till I read a good review like yours..

Sandhya said...

MRS TJ: Welcome to my space, TJ! I am planning to read 'Interpreter of maladies' soon! I too have got a shelf full of books but mostly they go into it after I finish reading them. Otherwise I too will forget them!

Thanks for the comment TJ!

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