Book Review – The Lowlands

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Random House India

Pages: 340 INR: 499

[SPOILERS]

The plot of The Lowlands concerns a family’s doomed attempts at coming to terms with an untimely death. The terrible loss leaves in its wake a clutch of scarred souls whose decisions are inherently chained to the deceased. An underdeveloped sibling relationship, a young love and a new life – dies are cast as to the chain of non-events that follow. The prose, as austere and detached as it could get, reminds me a lot of Tagore’s Gora. Thrown in, with good measure, are brilliant passages on the rise of the Naxal movement in India, the darkened corners (described in heart-warming lucidity) of a typical Bengali middle-class home, the emptiness and the jarring efficiency of US’s eastern coast. In a way, the novel is as much a take on an immigrant’s life (for which the author is already well-known) as it is on how a troubled past continues to haunt some. What we get, by the time we are in the second half of the book is a moving description of each of the solitary travelers of this one family – each dealing with his/her own sense of displacement along with the weights of a betrayal. Redemption is the last thing you could seek in a Lahiri’s novel. Yet, you pine for the showdown as much as you long for something terrible to happen to the sole gray character in this book. Gauri’s portrayal, vivid and tragic as it may be, flummoxes the most. The hallmarks of a good book is how best it handles its open-ended questions. How can you get betrayed by someone when you expected nothing out of her? How can you expect to replace the love of one’s life by virtue of being selfless? Can you abandon your own child to deal with your loss alone? Towards the end, the pages are predictable and yet the book is unputdownable. Men run after redemption as if it were the panacea of all the sadness. When one does attain some, seldom do we find ourselves fully satisfied.

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