The Lowland

My first week in New York, I barely left my apartment. My days were filled with unpacking, figuring out ways to fit my entire life into 200 square feet.

the lowlandBy my second week, though, I began venturing out more purposefully. I wandered to different neighborhoods, my metro card getting me to Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, Greenwich Village with a single swipe at the turnstile.

One afternoon I found myself in a small, hip coffee shop off 6th Avenue, reading Roger Ebert’s memoir (more on that later). The half dozen tables in the cafe were not enough for everyone to have their own private surface, so I’d asked a couple chatting at one end of a small rectangle if I could sit at the other. Soon they left, and another solo reader found her way to the seat opposite me.

In such intimate quarters, it was impossible not to see what she was reading, that she was nearly at the end of the book and that it was affecting her deeply. It was Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest, The Lowland – a book not scheduled to be on sale until the Fall.

Like a guy trying to work up the courage to ask a girl out, I mulled over how to strike up a conversation with my fellow reader, to ask her about the book, how she’d come to have a copy of it, to share what a fan I am of Lahiri’s words.

Now, I don’t even remember how I did it, but I did. And she was gracious. Incredibly gracious, so much so that as we chatted she seemed to come to a conclusion. Pushing the paperback toward me, she said, “Here, you have it. You’ll love it.” Her husband worked for the publisher, he could get another copy. An act of genuine kindness I’m still grateful for.

Tonight, I finished the book. I understand her shaken state as she took in the final several pages. The story of two brothers coming of age as Calcutta grapples with revolution and the generations both before and after them, it is an epic in so many ways. A dynamic point of view sees the turn of a page become a change in perspective. From rural India on the verge of independence to modern day California, it shapes a family history and all its vulnerability in 339 pages.

Lahiri’s first novel was charming and personal, and I suppose it hinted at what she’s delivered in The Lowland. There’s a maturity to her prose this time around, a confidence in her own voice as she invites us into her characters’ lives. We span seventy years of our protagonist’s life, and decades with those closest to him, and never once does it feel as if she’s over reached to get us there.

I have been so behind in my reading the last several years, too busy to even read a few pages before bed, that I’ve forgotten the rush that comes with reading what’s new on shelves – or in this case, what has yet to even see a bookstore. I love being posed the question, “What should I read next?” and having a new crop of recent reads to recommend. After finishing The Lowland, I know exactly what my response will be.