Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: The Lowland (Audio)

Summary:From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of The Namesake comes an extraordinary new novel, set in both India and America, that expands the scope and range of one of our most dazzling storytellers: a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death.

Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. It is the 1960s, and Udayan—charismatic and impulsive—finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty; he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he goes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind—including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Masterly suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a work of great beauty and complex emotion; an engrossing family saga and a story steeped in history that spans generations and geographies with seamless authenticity. It is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers. -- Random House Audio

If  you are a regular follower of my blog, then you know that I haven't been posting as regularly as normal. It's not that I haven't been reading books (although my reading is way down!) Rather, it's that I haven't been finding the time to write reviews. I could probably write an entire post on what's going on with my interest (or lack thereof) in blogging, but I'll leave that to another time!

What I do want to share with you are my thoughts about the audiobook version of THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri. I was already a big fan of Ms. Lahiri's; however, this novel really demonstrated just how skilled of an author she is.

THE LOWLAND is an intricate story about about two very different brothers who grew up in India during the 1960s. The novel begins when the boys, only eighteen months apart, are young; and in many ways is a coming-of-age story for them. Subhash is the more obedient son and becomes a researcher who eventually leaves for America, while Udayan joins the Naxalite movement to fight against inequity and poverty.

Tragedy strikes the family when Udayan is killed in a lowland near their home, and Subhash returns to India to help his family and his brother's wife. The story then follows Subhash as he returns to America with his new wife and attempts to move on with his life... without his brother.

As I re-read the summary I just wrote, I realize that I didn't do a very good job of summarizing the novel. Truly, my description for THE LOWLAND is a very simplistic look at the story. Trust me when I say that this novel is a very complex story, and everything about it is extremely well done. Over and over again, I was blown away by the beauty of Ms. Lahiri's prose. However, I was also fascinated by the historical elements of the story (I didn't know anything about the political climate in India during this time), and I was equally impressed with the depth of the characters.

THE LOWLAND is one of those books that almost haunts you -- does that make sense? At times, I found it to be gut-wrenching, and the pain these characters experienced stayed with me even when I wasn't reading the novel. It is because this novel was so thought-provoking (in so many ways) that I found it to be such a unique and special story.

It's difficult for me to focus on just a few specific things to address in this review (like I normally do) because the scope and, at the same time,  the intricacies of this novel blew me away. Suffice it to say that it was how everything came together in this story that really makes it stellar. Of course, I loved Ms. Lahiri's writing style and how she decided to tell the brothers' story -- she went back and forth between the present and the past. However, I might have been even more impressed by her character development and the portrayal of the complex relationships between them.

As a result, THE LOWLAND would make an outstanding book club selection. There are so many topics to discuss that I hardly know where to start! Thankfully, there is a reading guide with nineteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, sibling rivalry, marriage, loss, grief, guilt, obligation, politics, duty, parent/child relationships, and love.

I actually listed to the audio version of THE LOWLAND and thought it was very good. Having said that, it's possible that I might have enjoyed the written version more because of how I process words. I would have loved seeing Ms. Lahiri's prose and being able to go back and re-read certain portions of it. The story was narrated by Sunil Malhotra, and I thought he did an excellent job with the various accents as well as the emotion of the story.

Here's and excerpt of the audiobook:

I thoroughly enjoyed THE LOWLAND and highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this audiobook.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds really good but I can't help but wonder if I'd do better with the print version of the book. I really need to see the words when I read literary fiction.

Beth Hoffman said...

I've been somewhat interested in this book since I first became aware of it, but you've pushed me over the edge to add it to my list. I'll definitely read it in print.