Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


TheLowlandCoverOfficial Synopsis from Goodreads: Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed, of ties that ineluctably define who we are

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.

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, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him: his newly married, pregnant wife, his brother and their parents. For all of them, the repercussions of his actions will reverberate across continents and seep through the generations that follow.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed, of ties that ineluctably define who we are. With all the hallmarks of Jhumpa Lahiri’s achingly poignant, exquisitely empathetic story-telling, this is her most devastating work of fiction to date.

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Setting: Calcutta, Rhode Island, and Southern California. From approx 1943 to recent time
My Copy Came From: I purchased a used hardback copy at a local library book sale.

*** this post contains affiliate links ***

Review: A beautifully written book with unlikeable characters. This would be a great discussion book!

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri was a tough book for me. I loved the writing and how it was so simple, yet said so much at the same time. But while I adored the writing, I really struggled with feeling any connection to the characters.

Only the present moment, lacking any perspective, eluded her grasp. It was like a blind spot, just over her shoulder. A hole in her vision. But the future was visible, unspooling incrementally.

She wanted to shut her eyes to it. She wished the days and months ahead of her would end. But the rest of her life continued to present itself, time ceaselessly proliferating. She was made to anticipate it against her will.

There was the anxiety that one day would not follow the next, combined with the certainty that it would.

I went into this book thinking it would be a story about two brothers, Subhash and Udayan. And it was, but just not the story I was expecting, as Udayan is killed very early on in the book.

Udayan’s wife, Gauri, ends up marrying Subhash after Udayan’s death, and Gauri has a baby, whom she names Bela. I could not connect to Gauri’s character at all. She was so selfish, and I was just shaking my head at many of the decisions she makes throughout the novel. But, even though I couldn’t connect with her character, she never failed to keep my interest and I never felt bored while reading The Lowland. Which is a great statement, as it’s hard for a book to keep me interested when I don’t feel any emotional investment in the characters!

Always at the end of a queue, in the shadow of others, she believed she was not significant enough to cast a shadow of her own.

Where I really liked The Lowland was with the way Lahiri wrote the settings of the novel. Taking us from Calcutta to Rhode Island, I felt like I was right there with the characters. And Lahiri did this without paragraphs and paragraphs of descriptive text about the locations. I really enjoyed the writing and hope to read more of her works at some point!

In this enormous new country, there seemed to be nowhere for the old to reside. There was nothing to link them; he was the sole link. Here life ceased to obstruct or assault him. Here was a place where humanity was not always pushing, rushing, running as if with a fire at its back.

I mentioned above that I think this would be a good discussion book, and that’s because these characters force you to have an opinion about them. You’ll either love the characters or despise them, but you will have an opinion about them and their decisions, which would make for interesting discussion.

Bottom Line: I didn’t feel any connection with these characters, but I loved the writing!

LINKS ***the Amazon link is an affiliate link which means I receive a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase***


Have you read this book? How about any other Jhumpa Lahiri works?


8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

  1. Great review. I wonder if I could have kept reading if I had no connect/interest in the characters. Even with movies (and TV when I had it) it doesn’t matter how much action or excitement or whatever, if I don’t connect with the characters I don’t care to watch. This book certainly covers an exciting time in the location and surrounding countries! But I would still need the personal connection in some manner to keep me reading, i.e., to care enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I found it interesting that even though I didn’t connect with the characters, I still wanted to read about them! Usually I’m like you, I need that connection, but for some reason I didn’t with this book.


    1. I still need to read Interpreter of Maladies! It’s on my TBR.
      The plot actually isn’t as confusing as the synopsis makes it sound. But I did find some of the scenes set in India with the Naxalite movement a bit confusing because I wasn’t aware of the politics or upheaval that was happening at that time, so a lot of the terms/names I was unfamiliar with. But, Lahiri doesn’t go into that much detail – she details just enough, so that you get basically what’s going on, but doesn’t bog you down with minutiae.


        1. For sure! And that point is even made in the book – one of the characters thinks when they arrive in the US that there is such an important event happening in India, and no one in the US knows anything about it & it isn’t being discussed or publicized. I definitely need to read up more on what happened!


  2. I’m afraid I found it quite dull. The characters were as flat as pancakes and permanently miserable. I couldn’t help wishing she’d stayed in India and told us more about the Naxalite thing rather than yet another story about the immigrant experience. Glad you got more out of it than I did!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Permanently miserable” is an excellent way to describe these characters! I just wanted to say “snap out of it!” to them the entire book. I also wish that we learned more about the Naxalites. I kept looking stuff up online because it was such an important event, and I had never heard of it before.

      Liked by 1 person

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