There is a scene in Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest cross America-India novel, "The Lowland" that is so powerful that it prevents you from continuing in its nuzzled reading. It stops you dead in your reader tracks and demands your all-consuming attention. Her prose, too perfect, so ideal, memorably snakes and fumes the way smoke would if it were coming from your house on fire.
The scene where the brothers in the story reveal their darkest starkest most difficult differences is familiar and genial, but more importantly telling of all siblings, and even sibling-less relationships. Whether it is a brother or sister in the flesh, and imaginary brother or sister or even the proverbial best friend character ---it reveals a relationship every reader has had or has wanted. It’s that divulging. And when death comes to one of the brothers very early on in this story, his mirror image of himself and his brother in turn is shattered. It is then when the moral and mental qualities of the human race become slightly less molted. Lahiri points them out gently and with a slight tremble.
She is the Pulitzer Prize winner that people speak about, a genius in the worse sense of the word and a woman of utter beauty -- a trifecta that poisons the water with its pulchritude. Lahiri can’t help herself, she can only write the most beautiful prose ever to be put on paper. The story, crossing an ocean but also a culture, is steeped in heavy emotions and washes out of the pages and into the lives of readers. And that is why it is the novel of the moment, of brotherhood in a western and eastern sense. Politically that uncovers and reveals a painfully misunderstood sentiment that only time will whither away.
Stealing golf balls, ignoring and loving the Mosque (all at once) and the pain of dislocation come lapping as bundles of cultural and human insight at the shore of this novel. Where could all this heartbreak come from? An ancient land like India feeding the newness of America away from the shackles of the past you would think. But only are we to discover the trammels and curbs we create for ourselves by doing what we think is the right thing for others.
But the selfish and the selfless they are oh, but one and the same we start to see. Are these the interposable handicaps of life that are never too much and never too little? Lahiri answers this question with another question: who are we really - man or god or are we just both?
by Jhumpa Lahiri