The Lowland

The Lowland

by Jhumpa Lahiri


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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book • A Time Top Fiction Book • An NPR "Great Read" • A Chicago Tribune Best Book • A USA Today Best Book • A People magazine Top 10 Book • A Barnes and Noble Best New Book • A Good Reads Best Book • A Kirkus Best Fiction Book • A Slate Favorite Book • A Christian Science Monitor Best Fiction Book • An Apple Top 10 Book

National Book Award Finalist and shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize

The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307278265
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/17/2014
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 100,147
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.94(d)
Lexile: 860L (what's this?)

About the Author

Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of four works of fiction: Interpreter of MaladiesThe NamesakeUnaccustomed Earth, and The Lowland; and a work of nonfiction, In Other Words. She has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize; the PEN/Hemingway Award; the PEN/Malamud Award; the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; the Premio Gregor von Rezzori; the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature; a 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded by President Barack Obama; and the Premio Internazionale Viareggio-Versilia, for In altre parole.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

London, England


B.A., Barnard College; M.A., Ph.D., Boston University

Read an Excerpt

Normally she stayed on the balcony, reading, or kept to an adjacent room as her brother and Udayan studied and smoked and drank cups of tea. Manash had befriended him at Calcutta University, where they were both graduate students in the physics department. Much of the time their books on the behaviors of liquids and gases would sit ignored as they talked about the repercussions of Naxalbari, and commented on the day’s events.

The discussions strayed to the insurgencies in Indochina and in Latin American countries. In the case of Cuba it wasn’t even a mass movement, Udayan pointed out. Just a small group, attacking the right targets.

All over the world students were gaining momentum, standing up to exploitative systems. It was another example of Newton’s second law of motion, he joked. Force equals mass times acceleration.

Manash was skeptical. What could they, urban students, claim to know about peasant life?

Nothing, Udayan said. We need to learn from them.

Through an open doorway she saw him. Tall but slight of build, twenty-three but looking a bit older. His clothing hung on him loosely. He wore kurtas but also European-style shirts, irreverently, the top portion unbuttoned, the bottom untucked, the sleeves rolled back past the elbow.

He sat in the room where they listened to the radio. On the bed that served as a sofa where, at night, Gauri slept. His arms were lean, his fingers too long for the small porcelain cups of tea her family served him, which he drained in just a few gulps. His hair was wavy, the brows thick, the eyes languid and dark.

His hands seemed an extension of his voice, always in motion, embellishing the things he said. Even as he argued he smiled easily. His upper teeth overlapped slightly, as if there were one too many of them. From the beginning, the attraction was there.

He never said anything to Gauri if she happened to brush by. Never glancing, never acknowledging that she was Manash’s younger sister, until the day the houseboy was out on an errand, and Manash asked Gauri if she minded making them some tea.

She could not find a tray to put the teacups on. She carried them in, nudging open the door to the room with her shoulder.
Looking up at her an instant longer than he needed to, Udayan took his cup from her hands.

The groove between his mouth and nose was deep. Clean-shaven. Still looking at her, he posed his first question.

Where do you study? he asked.

Because she went to Presidency, and Calcutta University was just next door, she searched for him on the quadrangle, and among the bookstalls, at the tables of the Coffee House if she went there with a group of friends. Something told her he did not go to his classes as regularly as she did. She began to watch for him from the generous balcony that wrapped around the two sides of her grandparents’ flat, overlooking the intersection where Cornwallis Street began. It became something for her to do.

Then one day she spotted him, amazed that she knew which of the hundreds of dark heads was his. He was standing on the opposite corner, buying a packet of cigarettes. Then he was crossing the street, a cotton book bag over his shoulder, glancing both ways, walking toward their flat.

She crouched below the filigree, under the clothes drying on the line, worried that he would look up and see her. Two minutes later she heard footsteps climbing the stairwell, and then the rattle of the iron knocker on the door of the flat. She heard the door being opened, the houseboy letting him in.

It was an afternoon everyone, including Manash, happened to be out, and she’d been reading, alone. She wondered if he’d turn back, given that Manash wasn’t there. Instead, a moment later, he stepped out onto the balcony.

No one else here? he asked.

She shook her head.

Will you talk to me, then?

The laundry was damp, some of her petticoats and blouses were clipped to the line. The material of the blouses was tailored to the shape of her upper torso, her breasts. He unclipped one of the blouses and put it further down the line to make room.

He did this slowly, a mild tremor in his fingers forcing him to focus more than another person might on the task. Standing beside him, she was aware of his height, the slight stoop in his shoulders, the angle at which he held his face. He struck a match against the side of a box and lit a cigarette, cupping his whole hand over his mouth when he drew the cigarette to his lips. The houseboy brought out biscuits and tea.

They overlooked the intersection, from four flights above. They stood beside one another, both of them leaning into the railing. Together they took in the stone buildings, with their decrepit grandeur, that lined the streets. Their tired columns, their crumbling cornices, their sullied shades.

Her face was supported by the discreet barrier of her hand. his arm hung over the edge, the burning cigarette was in his fingers. The sleeves of his Punjabi were rolled up, exposing the veins running from his wrist to the crook of the elbow. They were prominent, the blood in them greenish gray, like a pointed archway below the skin.

There was something elemental about so many human beings in motion at once: walking, sitting in buses and trams, pulling or being pulled along in rickshaws. One the other side of the street were a few gold and silver shops all in a row, with mirrored walls and ceilings. Always crowded with families, endlessly reflected, placing orders for wedding jewels. There was the press where they took clothes to be ironed. The store where Gauri bought her ink, her notebooks. Narrow sweet shops, where trays of confections were studded with flies.

The paanwallah sat cross-legged at one corner, under a bare bulb, spreading white lime paste on stacks of betel leaves. A traffic constable stood at the center, in his helmet, on his little box. Blowing a whistle and waving his arms. The clamor of so many motors, of so many scooters and lorries and busses and cars, filled their ears.

I like this view, he said.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Lowland by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. Set in India and America, it is a beautifully crafted and heartbreaking portrait of three generations bound and fractured by the demands of love and loyalty.

1. “Udayan was the one brave enough to ask them for autographs…He was blind to self-constraints, like an animal incapable of perceiving certain colors. But Subhash strove to minimize his existence, as other animals merged with bark or blades of grass” (p. 11). How do the differences between the boys both strengthen and strain the tie between them?

2. Does Subhash’s decision to make it  “his mission to obey (his parents), given that it wasn’t possible to surprise or impress them. That was what Udayan did” (p. 11) follow a pattern common among siblings?  What part do their parents play in fostering the roles each boy assumes?

3. What does Udayan’s reaction to Subhash’s decision to go to America (p. 30) and Subhash’s admission that he wanted to leave Calcutta “not only for the sake of his education but also . . . to take a step Udayan never would” (p. 40) convey about the balance between admiration and envy, support and competition, that underlies their relationship?  Do you think that Udayan is manipulative, or does Subhash misread him (p. 31)?

4. What aspects of the immigrant experience are captured in Subhash’s first impressions of Rhode Island (p. 34)?  How do his feelings about school and about his roommate, Richard, bring to light both his pleasure and his uncertainties about his new independence? In what ways does Udayan’s letter add to his ambivalence about the choice he has made (p. 47)?

5. What does Subhash’s affair with Holly convey about his transition to life in America (pp. 65-83)? What does it reveal about his emotional ties to his old life and family? 

6. Why does the author describe the courtship and marriage of Udayan and Gauri from Gauri’s perspective (pp. 51-61)?  To what extent does Gauri’s independence, rare for women in India, influence their decision to marry?

7. How do the descriptions of Calcutta (pp. 88-90, 91-2) and Subhash’s first glimpse of his parents (p. 91) capture the complex feelings Subhash experiences on returning home? How do the brothers’ parents’ expectations and beliefs shape their treatment of Gauri?

8. What emotions lie behind his mother does his mother’s reaction to Gauri’s pregnancy (p. 114)? Is it understandable in light of Gauri’s behavior and manner?  Is Subhash right to believe that the only way to help the child is to take Gauri away (p. 115)? What other motivation might he have for marrying his brother’s widow?

9. From the start, Gauri and Subhash react differently to Bela and to parenthood. Gauri thinks,  “Bela was her child and Udayan’s; that Subhash, for all his helpfulness, for the role he’d deftly assumed, was simply playing a part. I’m her mother . . . I don’t have to try as hard” (p. 146).  Although Subhash has a close, loving relationship with his daughter, he is troubled by his marriage: “Almost five years ago they had begun their journey as husband and wife, but he was still waiting to arrive somewhere with her. A place where he would no longer question the result of what they’d done” (p. 159). What is the source of the underlying uneasiness of their marriage?  To what extent are they haunted by their attachments to Udayan? What other factors make Gauri feel resentful and trapped? Is Subhash partially responsible for her unhappiness?  How does Subhash’s insistence on hiding the truth from Bela influence Gauri’s behavior and the choices she makes?

10. How does the portrait of the brothers’ mother, Bijoli, enhance the novel’s exploration of the repercussions of the family tragedy (pp. 179-89)?  What effect does his visit to Calcutta and its many reminders of Udayan have on Subhash—as a son, a brother, and a father?

11. After Gauri the family, what does Bela rely on to make sense of the situation and to create a life for herself? Is her reclusiveness natural, given her family history, although much of it is unknown to her? In what ways do her decisions about her education and her work represent her need to separate and distinguish herself from her parents? 

12. Why, despite his pride in Bela and his confidence in her affection, does Subhash feel “threatened, convinced that . . . Udayan’s influence was greater” (p. 225)?  How might Bela’s life have been different had Udayan raised her?

13. The novel presents many kinds of parents—present and absent, supportive and reluctant. What questions does the novel raise about the challenges and real meaning of being a parent?

14. What do you find most striking or surprising about Gauri’s reflections on her life (p. 231-40)? “She had married Subhash, she had abandoned Bela. She had generated alternative versions of herself, she had insisted at brutal cost on these conversations. Layering her life only to strip it bare, only to be alone in the end” (p. 240). Is this an accurate and just self-assessment, or is Gauri too hard on herself—and if so, why?

15. Despite his accomplishments and relative contentment, Subhash remains in the grip of the deception that has dominated his life: “He was still too weak to tell Bela what she deserved to know. Still pretending to be her father . . . The need to tell her hung over him, terrified him. It was the greatest unfinished business of his life” (p. 251-52). Why does Bela’s pregnancy move him to reveal the truth? Were you surprised by Bela’s reaction? How does learning about Udayan and the story of her parents’ marriage?

16. The keeping of secrets plays a large part in the novel, from the facts of Bela’s parentage to Gauri’s long-hidden guilt about her role in Udayan’s fateful actions. To what extent are the continued deceptions fed by the love and sense of loyalty Gauri and Subhash feel toward Udayan even years after his death?  Do they also serve Gauri’s and Subhash’s self-interest?

17. The details of the family’s history emerge through various retellings set in different times and seen from different perspectives. Why do you think Lahiri chose to tell the story in this way? How does this method increase the power of the narrative? Do your opinions of and sympathies for the characters change as more information is revealed?

18. Before reading The Lowland, were you aware of the Naxalite movement? (The group remains active: on May 25, 2013, Naxalite insurgents attacked a convoy of Indian National Congress leaders, causing the deaths of at least twenty-seven people.) What insights does Lahiri offer into the development of radical political groups? What role does history play in the creation of the Naxalite movement and, by extension, other uprisings around the world?   What parallels do you see between the events described in the novel and recent activities in the Egypt and other countries torn by internal dissension and violence?

19. In an interview, Lahiri said, “As Udayan’s creator, I don’t condone what he does. On the other hand, I understand the frustration he feels, his sense of injustice, and his impulse to change society” (, June 3, 2013) Does the novel help you see more clearly the reasons for destruction and deaths revolutionary forces perpetrate to attain their goals?  How do you feel about Udayan after reading the novel’s last chapter?

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The Lowland 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It shocks me that anyone could find this book anything less than breathtaking. Admittedly, the first third or so of the book takes some getting used too; Lahiri is leaping into territory that will be simply unfamiliar with many readers, and the time she takes to lay her foundeation will likely strike some as tedious. That being said, once you are through the first 4 chapters or so, the book simply takes flight. The winding journey of each of her characters is so painful, so human, I could not pit the book down, and at times, I openly want to weep. I honestly think this book is as stunning as Lahiri's other work, perhaps her greatest, most significant work yet. If you have not read this cover to cover, I would do so as soon as you can.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How could people not finish reading this book?  It's a intriguing story that is character driven within some interesting settings.  All in all, a good read!   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Each sentence is carefully measured, resulting in a haunting beauty. I found myself yearning to fill the void and find resolution for several characters. This book is a gem.
Reader11 More than 1 year ago
The story is breathtakingly beautiful. The relationship between the two brothers, their closeness as children, the differences between them, and the paths their lives ultimately take. We learn why they make the choices that lead their lives in different directions, each trying to do what he believes is right and true and meaningful. The language is gorgeous; I was drawn in from the first pages and the descriptions of the childhood activities of the brothers. The reader can almost feel the air they breathe. There are some slow parts later in the book when time passes and we need to arrive at later times to understand the full background, but once we get there, the story picks up again and draws to a very satisfying conclusion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of the bad reviews are of people who couldn't make it through the entire book or felt too uncomfortable because of the contents of the book. However, I think the book really delved into the decisions people make our are forced to make and how it trickles down to every fiber of not only their lives but the lives around them. The circumstances in the book are brutal and it is difficult to take in, but well worth the effort. Characters are not created to exist and satisfy the reader but rather to paint a picture for the reader. If you go into this book looking for plot and character development and give the book a bad review when those things aren't presented to your liking that is your own personal issue with the book, not a reason to give the books demerits for your lack of open - mindedness or patience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was really looking forward to reading this book as I have loved the other books she has written. This book did not measure up to her writing standards and l found the beginning to be slow and her amazing way of telling a story was not thrrr.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Lahiri brings the multi-generation story of a Bengali family to life. The initial chapters describing the growth of two brothers in the post-British ruled India, and the radicalization of one is compelling. It's particularly interesting in the context of the Cold War as third world intelligentsia try to bring about Marxist reforms to redistribute wealth and property to the the populus. Her depiction of the older brother's journey to America to pursue a PhD. and later to live in America is spot on if anyone who went to university in the mid-60's knew such a student. Finally, there are the questions raised of family, obligation, morality and commitment. An entertaining read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking forward to this book and bought it in the first week of it coming out, but was disappointed; I read it till the end (with some effort) and I have to agree with the other reviewers - not her best, weak writing, sometimes very simplified retelling of India's history, characters are not developing, unappealing, I had no feeling for them. On the other hand, I loved "and the mountains echoed" by Khaled Hosseini.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I looked forward to this book because of the high praise and mention of literary prizes. I gave it a trial of about 100 pages but could not connect emotionally. The characters just seemed lifeless. I decided not to waste nay more of my time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've never read anything that made me feel what it was like to be an immigrant in America, and to know what it's like to rid yourself of old customs and yet never forget them. I found this tragic story so beautiful. I am incredibly glad I read this.
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
I love reading all of Jhumpa Lahiri's books; she helps me to better understand the challenge of being from one culture and living in another. In this marvelous novel she also shared some of India's history. She challenges me to be aware of my life choices and how large or small is my world view.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with those who said this book is nothing but descriptive text - at least for the first several chapters. It is written as if an external judge tells you who the characters are instead of letting them reveal who they are through their interactions and dialogue.  When page 1 begins with a description of their childhood and by page 32 (I have the Nook version) they are finishing the last of their college exams, it is sure sign that the author has failed to give the reader the foundation s/he needs to feel something about the main characters. I will finish the book because it is my book club's selection for this month, but not because I have any interest in the outcome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How does this book get the praise it does? Just another family saga with the most unlikable women ever. Kept waiting for it to get better which never happened . Total sleeper.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully told story. It's one of those books that i was sad to finish.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lahiri has another great one
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
4 characters
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All the characters and threads of this novel are carefully woven together to make the novel more immersive with each chapter. Beautiful, both tragic and uplifting. Lyrical language that packs a punch. All types of love-- parental, romantic, filial, love of nature and homeland. Finding identity. Loss. The long-term effects of secrets. I especially liked the author's revealing the thoughts of the main characters to make us aware of their perspectives.
R_Taylor More than 1 year ago
Magnificent I am very surprised to read some of these negative reviews. I finished this book earlier today. It is absolutely brilliant. At one particular climatic point, I felt I was there with the character. I literally could feel my blood pressure rising, and I became apprehensive about turning the page. It's been a good while since a book affected me that way. The plot is totally engaging, and the characters, very real and believable. There is also a lot to learn here about the history of India since the 1960's. I was very impressed, and I look forward to my next Jhumpa Lahiri read.
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donnam123 More than 1 year ago
Another great story by Jhumpa!
BrooklynTP More than 1 year ago
This is the first book of Lahiri's that I wasn't able to get into. She's a beautiful writer but the story didn't amount to much for me.
Beckemupsue More than 1 year ago
I was drawn along enough to read the entire book so it could not have been that horrible. However, when I was finished I felt I knew next to nothing about the characters. There is literally no dialogue and large periods of time pass -- decades in some cases -- without learning a thing about a given character. Everything about the novel demonstrates the distance between the characters with the effect of causing the reader to feel distant from them, too. The most engaging part of the novel is the beginning, when the brothers are young boys, but all too quickly they grow apart. In the end, you find out what happened, but you don't really care.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago