Often you come across humans who share with you gloomy, unending stories from their life—of human suffering, of human emotions, of the timeless impact of human choices. Stories that you can’t help but empathize with; stories that you can’t help but providing a kind ear to, irrespective of the hundreds of other important things you might have to do. While listening, you just can’t afford to ignore the chaos subtly contained within the simplicity of the choices people make. These stories—like The Lowland—are engaging because they are sad. The unending quiet sadness of this book is like the pain of a person who still mourns but has come to terms with it. A carefully woven story of lives carefully spilled.
People’s stories are often about the vast spectrum of forms that unhappiness can take: to put it in Tolstoy’s words, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is like that unending story which you find yourself too weak to leave midway. Even as each chapter makes you stronger in your own emotions, in your own understanding of human life.
With dialogues in direct speech but not enclosed within quotation marks, with clauses and phrases often meant to serve as short sentences with emotion at their depths, the book has a melancholy feel to it in the true sense of the word. With an impatience to turn the page, balanced by the patience to stay in the moment—in the beauty, in the gravity of the five-word-phrase that just abruptly ended with a full stop—prematurely, but somehow maturely. It is quiet, almost mute, in its narration; the quiet that makes you capable of listening to feelings.
It is difficult to not get reminded of Khalid Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed—both are novels written from changing perspectives of varying characters, both are stories spanning generations and continents. Both are masterpieces that depict how the simplest of the choices we make can impact generations to come. Sharing the perspectives of each character involved makes these two novels unusually fair to those characters they bring to life—something which novels with a single protagonist or viewpoint fail to do.
The Naxalite movement forms the backdrop of the events in the book, yet it is somehow insignificant overall. The book takes you to the history of the movement, and to the circumstances of human life in those times. The book takes you to the peace of a life in Rhode Island, away from the chaos of Tollygunge, into a life shaped by those very chaos of Tollygunge. The guilty distance between Gauri and Subhash is an interesting case in human relationships: a distance closed sometimes by Bela, at other times by gratitude and a sense of a shared secret. When neither factor worked to close the distance, Gauri and Subhash get led to another new life; a third new life for both. Yet another choice made; more lives irreversibly changed: the theme of the story. Where life takes Gauri makes you wonder briefly at moments of where opportunity, education, and independence can take an Indian woman: but much of the story is about how she failed her very identity as that conventional Indian woman.
The Lowland has characters to remember and be affected by, for a long time. The Lowland is a book that makes me want to read more of Jhumpa Lahiri. Very soon.