The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri is a history lesson with two brothers, Udayan and his slightly older brother Subhash, the protagonists. The boys are growing up in turbulent times in Calcutta, India in the 1960’s. It is post Partition, riots in Naxalbari in the Darjeeling District (nothing has changed), and at the time of global student unrest.
The brothers are following different paths. Udayan is adventurous and rebellious; while Subhash is quiet, studious, and American bound to a Rhode Island University. Change is in the air as chaos reigns around the world and youth is at the center of this change. This novel also reads like a documentary. The author is telling and interspersing dialogue to support the narrative of a documentary. It is a beautifully told narrative, but lacks the passion that the story should evoke. This is a sad story that is bereft of the crying. There is happiness without the joy.
The world must be confusing for Bela with the difference between Rhode Island and Calcutta, as well as with her parents. Also for Subhash who once snuck into a club that he is now accepted in. It’s about the lies, so reread Montaigne.
About Subhash: “Already there was a pill to lower the cholesterol, another to raise his potassium, a daily aspirin to promote the passage of blood to his heart through his veins. He stored them in a plastic box with seven compartments, labeled with the days of the week, counting them out with his morning oatmeal.” Is this where we all end up?
As a parent we can only help our children with their choices. As teachers we can only help them with choices. Our choices are ours and we own them. This novel is about choices and owning them. It is also about relationships. It is a simple story of two brothers and the choices they each make in difficult times.