December 26, 2013 by PatLeach
I chose this book because I so enjoyed Lahiri's lovely writing in "Unaccustomed Earth" several years ago when it was part of the 2009 American Library Association Notable Books list. That collection of short stories captured so well how people want to do the right thing, want to love each other well, and so often fall short. Yet hope remains. Lahiri has mastered the art of revealing big issues through small observations.
What I recall from "The Lowland" is that same yearning, and the author's continued kindness in drawing attention to good intentions and honest personal assessment, even when the reader can clearly see that behavior falls short.
This is the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, born in Calcutta just before Indian independence. Subhash is more withdrawn and quiet, Udayan more adventurous and impulsive. Born barely a year apart, they seem separate parts of one personality. Subhash ends up pursuing an academic career in the United States. Udayan remains in India, living with his parents, engaging in dangerous politics, and marrying for love. Udayan's untimely death (in the lowlands behind their house) shapes the novel, both in the time leading up to it, and in the subsequent passage of time for Subhash, Udayan's widow, and others who follow. The background of Indian culture and the period following independence provide a distinct backdrop for the general themes of sibling bonds, family ties, finding one's way in a new country, forgiveness, and the balance of individual dreams with social responsibilities.
I recommend this heartily to fiction readers, with an especially strong nod toward book groups.
Tagged in: Jhumpa Lahiri, fiction, India, "The Lowland",
September 08, 2009 by PatLeach
Now THIS was the kind of book I'd been seeking, one that had me scheming about how to get back to it, even when I really should have been doing other stuff.
"Unaccustomed Earth" is on this year's American Library Association Notable Books list. It's a collection of short stories, set in contemporary America, about young people who are of Bengali descent. Typically, the stories explore issues of having two cultures to bridge, of finding love in those circumstances, of staying true to the best in one's upbringing.
Apparently, I'm one of the last people to find out about Jhumpa Lahiri; she won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Interpeter of Maladies." I was amazed by how many people to whom I've mentioned this book (and I've mentioned it to a LOT of people) have already read it, or have it on their bedside tables.
What makes these stories so good? One, the characters are so well-drawn. Two, the endings are hopeful in sometimes unexpected ways. Three, the language is so good that I didn't even notice it. Four, she observes people so well. Five, the cultural issues are fascinating.
Thanks to the Notable Books committee for bringing this excellent book to my attention. I'm grateful. Have you read it already? What did you think?
Tagged in: Notable Books, Good Reads, short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri,