In addition to her facility in carefully etching the internal landscapes of her characters, Lahiri’s evocative descriptions of external landscapes, be they quiet estuaries in Rhode Island or noisy street festivals in Calcutta, are captivating and memorable. The South County scenes are so accurate to time and place it’s as if Lahiri kept a mental diary of her childhood days here. These sequences give a strong impression of her lingering affection for the region where she picked up stones at the beach, roamed among the stacks of the library where her father worked, and watched the change of seasons in a small New England town.
Those experiences are recounted through the eyes of Bela, the child born to Guari and Subhash in Rhode Island. Lahiri’s own children (a son, now 11; and a daughter, now 8) must have reminded her of how a five-year-old likes to hold onto the front of a grocery cart or to make blanket tents. It’s that attention to detail that gives such authenticity to her writing.
Lahiri can also pinpoint the significance of a gesture so precisely that it makes you pause to savor it: Udayan had been waiting for Guari to meet him at a movie theater, and “he lifted his hand as she approached, angling his head toward her face, forming a canopy over their heads.”
Reading The Lowland is like listening to a lush and intense piece of classical music. Motifs are introduced, vanish, and recur; several themes are treated in many variations; crescendoes arise and then dissipate; the coda brings us full circle to the two brothers — how each lived his life to its own fruition.
When Udayan first asks Guari why she studies philosophy, she replies, “Plato says the purpose of philosophy is to teach us how to die.” Jhumpa Lahiri’s writings teach us how to live. JHUMPA LAHIRI IN CONVERSATION WITH WILLIAM CORBETT | Sunday, October 6 @ 2 pm | Brown University’s MacMillan Hall, 167 Thayer St, Providence | 401.863.3168 | $29.21 [includes a copy of The Lowland] | brown.edu/campus-life/support/bookstore/events