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Reviewed: The Lowland

I read a lot. I’ve been keeping track of the books I read since 2011, so I know that since January of this year I’ve read 66 books, give or take a few I didn’t feel ‘counted’ as books. (I don’t tend to count short stories, etc.) Because I read and record my thoughts on books regularly, I thought I may as well share them here. I am far from a professional critic, but I’ll try to review my favorite books of the month here in brief.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t interested in reading this book at first. While Lahiri is a wonderful writer, I thought it would be more of the same (I’ve been reading a lot of ‘American immigrant’ novels lately). My book club decided to read this and the library had it (I think I was the first one to get the new copy), so I joined in

From the book jacket:

From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives.

The book is divided into short sections which alternate between characters as well as time periods. I found it easy to transition between these sections and it was always a nice surprise to have to read the first few paragraphs to realize whose point of view it was. Of course I questioned a few of the perspectives and time shifts she put in, wondering if a more interesting angle on the family’s life could have been used, but overall I was surprised by the plot developments and really enjoyed her choices of detail. The end brought us back to the beginning of the book’s main conflict, in a circular fashion that is often effective, but I liked how it relived the conflict unflinchingly by this point the reader knows what is coming, but the book still describes it honestly. I really value that.

Overall a very enjoyable and engaging read that is beneath the surface about how different personalities are impacted by and live past tragedy. As with many books, this is a story of people, life and resilience, but done with a grace that is unique to Lahiri’s work. Her Man Booker Prize nomination this year is well deserved. If you’d like to get a glimpse of life in Calcutta or enjoy reading about the cultural differences those who immigrate to America face, this is one for you. You may also be interested if you really like books that are about characters and personalities first and foremost, the contrast between sections here is well done.

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