One of the best parts of working at a university is the library. Students are busy reading for class, so new releases are almost always available and I can check them out for 5 months. I picked up The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri about 2 months ago from Geisel Library, but it sat, untouched, in a pile of books in my bedroom. Then I received an email from the library telling me that I had to return it within five days because it had been requested…I can’t stand returning my library books late, so the email prompted me to pick it up to read the first page, and I had no problem finishing it in the five days that I had left to read it.
Surprisingly, “The Lowland” is the first book I have read by Lahiri. I have heard all good things, but for some reason I haven’t read her work. After reading this, I will definitely be checking out her previous novels. “The Lowland” covers four generations of an Indian family whose lives go from India to Rhode Island to California. The chapters rotate narrators, and the literary device helps this novel explore the theme of the big, gigantic pain of secrets.
Subhash and Udayan are brothers growing up in India with a close bond, but as they enter college they start to separate, especially when Udayan becomes involved in the Naxalite movement (which I had never heard about prior to reading this). Subhash moves to the United States to complete his education, while Udayan stays in India and marries a woman named Gauri. Tragedy strikes, and the lives of these characters intersect in a way that none of them expected.
My favorite narrator in the the book is the somewhat unsympathetic character of Gauri. Her passion for philosophy leads to beautiful passages about time. Gauri has “an acute awareness of time, of the future looming, accelerating. The baby’s lifetime, so scant, already outdistancing and outpacing her own. This was the logic of parenthood.”
When Gauri talks about her daughter, it reminded me of so many children who are trying to understand the baffling, incomprehensible passage of time. In particular, I remember my sister, Julie, doing this: “At four Bela was developing a memory. The word yesterday entered her vocabulary, though its meaning was elastic, synonomous with whatever was no longer the case. The past collapsed, in no particular order, contained by a single word…Bela’s yesterday was a receptacle for anything her mind stored. Any experience or impression that had come before. Her memory was brief, its contents limited. Lacking chronology, randomly rearranged”
Time helps heal some wounds in the book, however the characters feel overwhelmed by the inescapable past. It is always there. The secrets spread apart the family and cause a lot of pain. Lahiri tells a satisfying, deep, multicultural story that beautifully comes together and sticks with the reader.
On a different note, I have rediscovered my love for audio books. Over the last few weeks I’ve listened to “Fin and Lady” by Cathleen Schine, “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Arthur C. Clarke, and “Lit” by Mary Karr. They have all been great, escapist audio narratives, especially “Lit”. Karr is a master memoirist who narrates her audio book with her southern accent and lots of emotion. The book explores her descent into alcoholism and the years it took her to grapple with her demons. Listening to these books on CD makes my crappy commute so much better, in fact, some days I am glad to be stuck in a traffic jam on the 5.