Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Brothers and Two Countries

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Ok, that's it.  I am taking some time off from reading Indian authors.  They are just TOO depressing for me, and I can only take so much.  After Rohinton Mistry and Aravind Adiga, I thought I would switch to a female author, but apparently, Jhumpa Lahiri is just as depressing.  At least her book is shorter, though.  And ended with some semi-happiness or hint of potential happiness.

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.

21 comments:

  1. It seems like we've had similiar feelings about her work; I'm still reading this one, and your thoughts might help in terms of adjusting my expectations as I read on. If you enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies, you might enjoy (someday, not now! *grin*) Clark Blaise's The Meagre Tarmac; his collection surprised me, but now I must try more and some of his wife's (Bharati Mukherjee's) collections too.

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    1. Thank you! I have Mukherjee's first novel, The Palace of Illusions, but have not read it yet. It's probably depressing, too, so I will wait a while :-)

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  2. I love depressing books probably way too much, so this actually sounds kind of good to me, although lack of connection to the characters... Ehhhh.

    Speaking of depressing Indian books, have you read The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy? Such a beautiful and vivid book, yet sooooo depressing. It's awesome!

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    1. Oh my gosh, that book is the most depressing thing ever!

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  3. I have reached a similar impasse with Irish writers. They are so nonstop depressing that I've actually gone farther than you, and given up on Irish writers completely. Thanks for nothing, cultural heritage!

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    1. Ha! Jenny, I feel the same way. I remember one summer completely swearing off Irish authors after reading The Sea by John Banville.

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  4. I have yet to try her books, so maybe one day

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  5. I just finished The Namesake, and while I really liked it, I think I might've enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies a wee bit better. I adore her ability to write detail in such a vibrant way, and the separation and loneliness among her characters is great. I enjoyed basking in the detail in The Namesake, but that shorter delivery via short stories is so powerful. Looking forward to reading more of her work, including this one.

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    1. I agree that the short stories can pack a pretty powerful punch! Interested to see what you think of this one.

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  6. I was just mentioning this other day, but so many books set in Asia and Africa are so sad to read. I wish more cheerful books made out to the mainstream.

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    1. I know! Russian authors, too! And apparently Irish, according to Jenny ;-)

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  7. I had to laugh after reading your first paragraph! I don't often read depressing books so I understand what you mean. I do have The Namesake in my tbr stack.

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  8. This does sound very depressing! I haven't read any of her books yet, so I think I'll look for one of the short story collections first.

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  9. I tend to love depressing books--probably why Thomas Hardy is my favorite author. I saw Lahiri speak a week or two after this published, and she mentioned that Hardy is one of her favorite authors and that he was her guide as she wrote this, so yeah, it was bound to be a downer of a book, but, being me, I loved it.

    I really need to read her short stories because so far all I've read are her two novels, and most people seem to prefer her stories.

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    1. I definitely do! I think her prose works much better in that format.

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  10. I haven't picked up one of Lahiri's books in a long time. I can't really remember now if I enjoyed the one I did read, or if I just liked it because I thought it was supposed to be important? I read so many of those back then, I can never trust my memory!

    You always find the prettiest book covers that are so different from the ones I've seen!

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    1. Haha, I LOVE that all of us sometimes like books because they are supposed to be important ;-)

      I like this book cover, too! I don't know where it's from.

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  11. I wonder why they feel they have to be so depressing... That's too bad!

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  12. Thanks for helping me understand my discomfort with this book. I have found her short stories too depressing for my taste, but I haven't responded that way to most of the Indian books I have read. I just finished Thrity Umrigar's new book, The Story Hour, which I just loved. It is not exactly cheerful, but delightful and hopeful.

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    1. I have never read any Umrigar, so maybe I'll try her next!

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  13. I started reading this one about 4 times, and just couldn't make a go - I just couldn't go it. I HAVE to be in the right mood to read this type of book, and apparently I haven't been there recently. =)

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