Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.
In the aftermath of the Women’s Prize winner announcement last week I began to think not just about previous winners of the prize, but also those equally deserving shortlisted books that I had read in the past. Although I absolutely loved Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, I equally loved Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and The Idiot by Elif Batuman, both of which were also shortlisted for the 2018 prize. Another book I adored from a previous shortlist was Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland from 2014.
The Lowland follows almost the whole life-span of the Mitra family. Subhash and Udayan are brothers, there is only a fifteen month age-gap between them. Subhash cannot remember life before Udayan was born and they have been inseparable ever since. However, they appear to be complete opposites in character. Where Subhash is cautious and shy and would put his family’s safety before his own beliefs, Udayan is bold and daring and fights for a higher cause, disregarding the consequences of his actions. When the 1967 Naxalbari incident occurs, not only does this highlight India’s fractious state, but it also serves as the beginning of the Mitra brothers’ growing separation. As the brothers enter different universities, their interests begin to diverge. Subhash channels his energies into science as Udayan becomes even more embroiled in the growing Naxalite movement – a radical, left-wing guerrilla campaign headed by former leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
In The Lowland Lahiri not only illuminates a very turbulent time in Indian history but also explores the fragility of human relationships – how they have the ability to destroy and upend lives whilst continuing to carry on regardless. Poignant and tragic, Lahiri shows how even distance and time cannot stop the inevitable destruction of familial secrets.
Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London but grew up in America. Author of the Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, her first novel The Namesake and her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, Lahiri explores the lives of Indian Americans and how they deal with their mixed cultural environment. Her latest novel, The Lowland, published in 2013, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.