Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers. Her new novel is called The Lowland.
Listen to an interview with Lahiri over at NPR and dig the accompanying article by Lynn Neary:
"The real issue that interested me more in this book was, what it is like to have experienced life in a city where a situation, a political uprising, whatever you want to call it — attempted revolution, really, is what it was — has taken over the city, has altered life fundamentally, has created a dangerous, difficult, violent environment, has affected day-to-day life on practically every level?" Lahiri explains. "To be living with this day after day and then suddenly to be in a part of the world where it might as well not exist, because it is not on the radar of anybody you're around, and just simply the silence — I imagine for the characters, I imagine for Gauri, it was both a relief and deeply unsettling."
It's in questions like that — questions she cannot answer — that Lahiri finds her stories. "So much of my writing derives from these questions that I ask myself — things that are utterly beyond my personal set of experiences," she says. "And it's my attempt to try to ... understand, to sort of break out of my own consciousness, you know, the limitations of my own life."
Lahiri says that in this book, she feels she has stretched the canvas of her writing. Much of her previous fiction has focused on the generational tension between immigrant parents and their children. She has touched on history and politics in other work, but in this book, they are an integral part of the story. "At heart it remains a family story and that's how it was conceived," Lahiri says. "But I did want to acknowledge, address, understand the historical and political context, and so for me that was a new step to take."
Writing a book, Lahiri says, is a mysterious process. She never really expects to be happy when she is finished, but she does hope for a sense of satisfaction. With The Lowland, in the end, she is satisfied. She's says she's added some new ingredients to her fiction — and put everything in this story that needed to be there.
The Wall Street Journal has a three-part excerpt (1, 2, and 3). Lahiri once said that she wasn't interested in writing a panoramic novel but that appears to be what she's done here. And good for her for pushing herself into unfamiliar territory.
Here's Michiko Kakutani's review in the New York Times:
“The Lowland” is certainly Ms. Lahiri’s most ambitious undertaking yet, and it eventually opens out into a moving family story. It is initially hobbled, however, by pages and pages of historical exposition, by a schematic plotline and by a disjunction between the author’s scrupulous, lapidary prose and the dramatic, Dickensian events she recounts. It is only in the second half that Ms. Lahiri’s talent for capturing the small emotional details of her characters’ daily lives takes over, immersing us in their stories and making us less aware of the book’s creaky and often noisy hydraulics.
In her 2003 novel, “The Namesake,” as in her two collections of short stories (“Unaccustomed Earth” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Interpreter of Maladies”), the lives of Ms. Lahiri’s characters were made palpably real to us, through her exacting evocation of their day-to-day routines: the Wonder Bread sandwiches, tinted green with curry, that a Bengali mother makes for her embarrassed daughter to take to school, the careful adoption of American rituals like making snowmen or dyeing Easter eggs. Such particulars accentuated the differences between immigrant parents and their American-born children, and the almost existential sense of dislocation that exile can produce in people who feel at home neither in their ancestral country nor in the United States.