“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri: Two Reviews

THE LOWLAND is a breathtaking achievement, taking into account four generations and almost 70 years. While certain readers, myself included, may wish for more of Udayan’s perspective — we so infrequently see anything of India’s dissenters or revolutionaries in realistic literary fiction — it is hard to imagine the thorough application of Lahiri’s delicate, observant, American prose to a charismatic revolutionary abroad. Or even to certain conventional axes of Indian social conflict — caste, religion, language. We never learn what the brothers’ caste is, for example, even though caste in the 1960s was a preoccupation and serious point of division (and is still in some circles). We know that they are likely middle-class, that their father was a railroad cleric, a government employee with little sympathy for radicalism… [More]


JHUMPA LAHIRI is not an immigrant writer. Nor is she a writer of cosmopolitan, international, or global fiction. She is an American realist. In the manner of John Updike, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen — writers with whom she is never associated — Lahiri’s magisterial canvases portray the elusive, vexed promises that comprise the mythos of the United States. But since her Pulitzer-winning debut Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri’s multinational biography has dominated the reception of her fiction and obscured what is a distinctly American literary sensibility. The British-born, Indian-American writer is almost inevitably subsumed into an axis of immigrant-minority-ethnic-postcolonial writers such as Junot Díaz, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and Zadie Smith. Accordingly, critics continue to overlook Lahiri’s most significant literary achievement: a New England regionalism that contains the consciousness of a nation. In her new novel The Lowland, a multigenerational family story that unfolds in counterpoint between India and the United States, Lahiri emphasizes neither the immigrant’s cultural displacement nor a contest of values between old world and new. Rather, this exquisitely written novel…