The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is being praised as her best yet, so I was hopeful for a good read after being perhaps the only person disappointed by her collection Unaccustomed Earth. It is a contender in this year’s The Morning News Tournament of Books. Alas, I had the same trouble with this longer work that I did with her stories: emotional distance from middle-class characters who I didn’t find that interesting. It’s a multi-generational story, and is set in an interesting point in time the Naxalbari rebellion in India. One brother is a rebel, the other a scholar. The story moves between India and the US, and back and forth in time. I thought about abandoning the book a few times, but there were parts that were written in beautiful prose, and others that did go below an emotional surface, particularly in the character Gauri, and her ambivalence to motherhood. Ultimately, though, I could feel the writing taking place, could detect Lahiri’s strategy for placing segments out of time, and for the unfolding events, but they didn’t serve their purpose with me to engage, maintain tension, and make me care throughout.
If you have liked her previous work, which many do, then you may like this. It mostly didn’t work for me, and I hope it goes down to Eleanor and Park in the tournament, which was emotionally vivid and very compelling to me, if not so luminously written.