Jhumpa Lahiri's latest book is The Lowland. I admit I am not as huge a Lahiri fan as so many other people. I like her short stories, but I didn't really care for The Namesake, and I was sad that her most recent book was a novel and not a short story collection. But the plot sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a go.
The Lowland begins in the tumultuous couple of decades after Indian independence (as do many, many Indian novels). Subhash and Udayan are two brothers who are very close to each other early on in life, but begin to slip away from each other as they get older. Subhash takes the traditional and acceptable route of going to America to further his studies and settle down. Udayan joins the Naxalite movement and becomes an extremist. He also falls in love with and marries a woman, Gauri, without his family's knowledge, and this act has repercussions far beyond what anyone would expect.
The above summary makes this book seem as though it is action-packed. It is not. There isn't much of a plot. That is, a plot exists, but this book is much more about thinking and how people react to things (not only in the immediate aftermath, but years and years later) rather than about the things happening themselves. The plot summary above really only covers a very small portion of the book - the book spans probably 80 years of time. So it's difficult to summarize the plot without giving away what could be considered spoilers.
The writing in this book is beautiful. Lahiri is so good at writing about loneliness and how people can feel isolated even when they are surrounded by other people and generally have good lives. Gauri and Subhash are such good examples of these people, just going through life without many real connections and trying to get through each day.
But maybe it's because she's so good at writing about loneliness that Lahiri does so well in the short story format. In novel form, writing about lonely characters really just means that the characters have no real connection with each other, and then the readers have even less connection with them. I probably could not come up with many words to describe any of the characters in this novel besides "lonely," "isolated," and maybe "bitter." Not a lot of fun to be around.
I am glad I read this book because I learned a little bit more about the Naxalite movement in India (not as much as I had hoped to, though). And overall, reading all these depressing Indian books has been a good impetus for discussion with my parents. I realize now that my parents rarely talk about their lives when they were in India, and they lived through some pretty tumultuous times, so it's been great asking them about what it was like and seeing how their opinions of events compare to those shared by the authors here.
But for now? I'm not reading another Indian author for at least a few months. It's finally getting warm outside! No more depressing books.