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Book review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Ten years in the making, this beautiful bummer of a book keeps you thinking long after you’ve finished.

Photograph: Alvina Lai

By Jhumpa Lahiri. Knopf, $28.

A family saga that finds its roots in a 1967 Calcutta peasant rebellion, The Lowland extends its reach to present-day Rhode Island. The story initially centers on two brothers: Udayan, a doomed, fiery idealist in the mold of Sartre’s Hugo Barine; and Subhash, a sensitive sort who makes a passage to America as violence erupts at home. When Udayan is (inevitably) killed, the family is shattered, and we watch Subhash attempt to repair things by marrying his brother’s widow—our third and arguably most compelling protagonist, a woman as dislikable as she is fascinating.

It’s been ten years since Jhumpa Lahiri published her ravishing first novel, The Namesake. The long-awaited follow-up entirely justifies its lengthy gestation. The story develops like a rip in a piece of fabric that keeps tearing: a gripping meditation on absence, alienation and loss. It’s a bleak read for sure, but also exquisitely written and deeply moving.

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