The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri c. 2013 (340 pages—Knopf)

(Note: This summary contains spoilers.) “The Lowland” is Shakespearian in its representation of family drama. Udayan (the radical and rebellious brother) is murdered by government forces when Subhash (the studious, rule-follower) is in the US furthering his education. After a brief relationship with an American woman, Subhash returns to Calcutta to reconnect with his mother and father only to find that they’ve shut out Udayan’s pregnant wife, Gauri. Feeling powerless and disconnected, Subhash makes the bold decision to marry Gauri and take her back to the US with him, where he’s working as a researcher. In the beginning of their marriage, both Subhash and Gauri agree that it’s best to pretend that Subhash is Bela’s father, not wanting her to know the truth about Udayan’s death. But Gauri becomes increasingly burdened by this lie and by the lack of intellectual stimulation that she experiences as a stay-at-home mom, so she leaves Subhash and Bella to become a scholar. The story climaxes when Subhash tells Bela, now pregnant, the truth about her family.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “While Subhash stayed in clear view, Udayan was disappearing: even in their two-room house, when he was a boy, he hid compulsively, under the bed, behind the doors, in the crate where winter quilts were stored. / He played this game without announcing it, spontaneously vanishing, sneaking into the back garden, climbing into a tree, forcing their mother, when she called and did not answer, to stop what she was doing” (10).
  • “They laid out the pieces on the bed: the chassis, the capacitors, the various resistors, the speaker. Soldering the wires, working together on the task. When it was finally assembled, it looked like a little suitcase, with a squared-off handle. Made of metal, bound in black” (16).
  • “Under their bed, against the wall, there was a can of red paint and a brush that had not been there before” (28).
  • “Each day, in spite of its growing routine, he felt uncertain, improvisational. Here in this place surrounded by sea, he was drifting far from his point of origin” (40).
  • “His satisfaction was in watching: its breast feathers drooping as it dipped its head toward the water, as it took slow strides on long, backward-bent legs” (45).
  • “The sun was beating down and he lifted his hand as she approached, angling his head toward her face, forming a little canopy over their heads. The gesture made her feel alone with him, sheltered in that great crowd. Distinct from the pedestrians, afloat on the city’s swell” (61).
  • “The hymns recounted the story of Durga being formed, and the weapons that were provided for each of her ten arms: sword and shield, bow and arrow. Axe, mace, conch shell, and discus. Indra’s thunderbolt, Shiva’s trident. A flaming dart, a garland of snakes” (83).
  • “Only two people had come to receive him. A younger cousin of his father’s, Biren Kaka, and his wife. They were standing by a fruit vendor, unable to smile when they spotted him. He understood this diminished welcome, but he couldn’t understand why, after he’d traveled for more than two days, after he’d been away for more than two years, his parents were unwilling to come even this far to acknowledge his return. When he’d left India his mother had promised a hero’s welcome, a garland of flowers draped around his neck when he stepped off the train” (88).
  • “She watched his arms flapping, his body leaping forward, seizing up before falling to the ground. There was the clean sound of the shots, followed by the sound of crows, coarsely calling, scattering” (105).
  • “And it wasn’t simply cruelty. Their treatment of Gauri was deliberate, intended to drive her out. He thought of her becoming a mother, only to lose control of the child. He thought of the child being raised in a joyless house. / The only way to prevent it was to take Gauri away. It was all he could do to help her, the only alternative he could provide. And the only way to take her away was to marry her. To take his brother’s place and raise his child, to come to love Gauri as Udayan had. To follow him in a way that felt perverse, that felt ordained. That felt both right and wrong” (115).
  • “In the light of early morning, he saw her hair unsprung from its customary knot, tensile, suspended like a serpent from the branch of a tree. She walked through the living room as if he were not there” (138).
  • “Inside of her, surrounded by her, he worried that she would never accept him, that she would never fully belong to him, even as he breathed in the smell of her hair, and clasped her breast in his hand” (147).
  • “That summer evening formed a vivid tableau that seemed just to have occurred. She recalled the rain on the way to the hospital, the face of the nurse who’d stood at her side, the view of the marina out the window. The feel of the hospital gown against her skin, a needle inserted into the top of her hand. Just yesterday, it seemed, she had held Bela and at looked at her for the first time. She remembered the ballast of pregnancy, suddenly missing. She remembered astonishment that such a specific-looking being, contained for so long within her, had emerged” (153).
  • “In the afternoons, following mornings of bright sun, came the rumble of thunder, like great sheets of rippling tin. The approach of dark-rimmed clouds. Bela saw them lowering swiftly like a vast gray curtain, obscuring the day’s light” (192).
  • “He is teaching her to identify things, they are playing a game: one point for a mussel shell, two for scallop, three for crab. The plovers, darting single-mindedly from the dunes toward the waves, get five” (218).
  • “Her dedication to bettering the world was something that would fulfill her, he imagined, for the rest of her life. Still, he was unable to set aside his concern. She had eschewed the stability he had worked to provide. She’d forged a rootless path, one which seemed precarious to him. One which excluded him. But, as with Gauri, he’d let her go. / A loose confederation of friends, people she spoke of fondly but never introduced him to, provided her with an alternate form of family” (224-225).
  • “Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she had put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night. She had no wish to overcome it. Rather, it was something upon which she’d come to depend, with which she’d entered by now into a relationship, more satisfying and enduring than the relationships she’d experienced in either of her marriages” (237).
  • “Her life had been pared down to its solitary components, its self-reliant code. Her uniform of black slacks and tunics, the books and the laptop computer she needed to do her job. The car she used to get from one place to another” (240).
  • “He was increasingly aware these days of how much he owned, of the ongoing effort his life required. The thousands of trips to the grocery store he had made, all the heaping bags of food, first paper, then plastic, now canvas sacks brought from home, unloaded from the trunk of the car and unpacked and stored in cupboards, all to sustain a single body” (252).
  • “She lives with ten other people in a house meant for one family. There are people writing screenplays, people designing jewelry, people whose computer start-ups have failed. People who recently graduated from college, and older people with pasts they don’t care to discuss” (255).
  • “Then again, how could he expect Bela to be interested in marriage, given the example he and Gauri had given? They were a family of solitaries. They had collided and dispersed. This was her legacy” (262).
  • “She refused to believe him. She thought something had happened to him, that he’d lost his mind, that perhaps he’d suffered a stroke. She kneeled in front of him on the sofa, gripping him by the shoulders, inches from his face. / Stop saying that, she said. He sat, passive, in her clutches, and yet he felt as if he were striking her. He was aware of the brute force of the truth, worse than any physical blow. At the same time he had never felt more pathetic, more frail” (266).
  • “Around Bela her mother had never pretended. She had transmitted an unhappiness that was steady, an ambient signal that was fixed. It was transmitted without words. And yet Bela was aware of it, as one is aware of a mountain. Immovable, insurmountable. / Now there was a third parent, pointed out to her like a new star her father would teach her to identify in the night sky. Something that had been there all along, contributing a unique point of light. That was dead but newly alive to her. That had both made her and made no difference” (268).
  • “Too much is within her grasp now. First at the computers she would log on to at the library, replaced by the wireless connection she has at home. Glowing screens, increasingly foldable, portable, companionable, anticipating any possible question the human brain might generate. Containing more information than anyone has need for. / So much of it, she observes, is designed to eliminate mystery, to minimize surprise. There are maps to indicate where one is going, images of hotel rooms one might stay in. The delayed status of a plane one need not rush to board. Links to people, famous or anonymous—people one might reunite with, or fall in love with, or hire for a job. A revolutionary concept, already taken for granted. Citizens of the Internet dwell free from hierarchy. There is room for everyone, given that there are no spatial constraints. Udayan might have appreciated this” (275-276).
  • “They were simple questions, ones that Bela did not mind answering when posed by strangers. But coming from her mother each felt outrageous. Each was an affront” (309).
  • “After the bypass, turning after a fancy hospital, a few familiar things. The train tracks at Ballygunge, the tangled intersection at Gariahat. Life pouring out of crooked lanes, seated on broken steps. Hawkers, selling clothes, selling slippers and purses, lining the streets” (315).
  • “She was unprepared for the landscape to be so altered. For there to be no trace of that evening, forty autumns ago. / Scarcely two years of her life, begun as a wife, concluded as a widow, an expectant mother. An accomplice in a crime” (320).
  • “The next day when they step out of the house they encounter a group bidding an unknown villager farewell, mourners in dark clothing spreading down the sloping street. For a moment it is as if they, too, are part of the funeral. There is no sense of its boundaries, where it begin or ends, whom it grieves. Then they pass, respectfully, out of its shadow” (330).

About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
This entry was posted in book, fiction, novel, sentences, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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