Jhumpa Lahiri just might be my favorite contemporary author. If not the top, then definitely in the top three. She knocks it out of the park again with her second novel, The Lowland, a family drama is set against two contrasting backdrops, Calcutta and Rhode Island.
Subhash and Udayan are two close, yet very different, brothers growing up in India during the 1950's, witnessing the racial and social inequalities in their neighborhood. When they reach adulthood, Subhash takes the safe road and attends college, ultimately studying abroad in America. Udayan fights for change by joining the Naxalite movement, a guerrilla communist group. When Udayan is brutally murdered due to his involvement in the movement, Subhash agrees to marry Udayan's pregnant wife and raise his niece as his own daughter in America.
Lahiri writes beautifully. When I read her stories, I have to constantly remind myself to slow down and soak in her lyrical and layered quality to her writing. She has a gift. Beyond that, she spins really amazing stories. The Lowland is just overflowing with rich characters who are filled with emotion and who face enormous dilemmas. Lahiri sets the stakes high. If there could be one encompassing theme to the story, it would the idea of figuring out who you are and staying true to yourself. Lahiri's characters often struggle with self-acceptance, especially when it flies in the face of what society expects.
It's this internal struggle that the characters have that makes the story so captivating. Quite honestly, some of the things that the characters do are shocking and it's hard not to feel judgement towards them, even when they are following their heart. This is a story of profound sadness. It's gut wrenching.
I highly recommend The Lowland and all of Lahiri's works as must reads. If you've not read her, stop reading my blog and head to a bookstore now!