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'The Lowland' by Jhumpa Lahari

Book Club Discussion Questions

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Knopf Doubleday
The Lowland is Jhumpa Lahari's fourth book. Her last release, Unaccustomed Earth, was a collection of short stories, bur Lahari takes on a longer story in The Lowland. In the novel, she explores family relationships in an Indian family in India and America, and particularly how one event in their history changed them all. The book is personal, but also contains historical details about the Naxalite Movement in India. Use these book club questions to explore the many characters and themes Lahari raises.

Spoiler Warning: These questions contain details from the novel. Finish the book before reading on.

  1. Were you familiar with the Naxalite Movement before reading The Lowland? What did you learn about India's history from this novel?
  2. When Subhash returns to India after Udayan's death, he catches up on news about the uprising and refers to "events Subhash had not come across in any newspaper in Rhode Island, or heard on the AM radio in his car" (87). Even his socially conscious roommate had not heard of the Naxalite movement. Do you think Americans are still as insulated from events in other countries as they were in this novel? Why or why not?
  3. Consider these quotes and scenes about Subhash and Udayan's relationship:
    • "As usual he was uncertain whether he was more frustrated by Udayan's daring, or with himself for his lack of it. Subhash was thirteen, older by fifteen months. But he had no sense of himself without Udayan" (6).
    • When Subhash tells Udayan he is going to America, Udayan replies, "You're the other side of me, Subhash. It's without you that I'm nothing. Don't go" (31).
    • As teens after getting injured in a game, Subhash "remembered Udayan teasing him even then for the clumsy move that had caused the injury, saying their side had been winning until then. And at the same time supporting him, guiding him home" (93).
    Yet despite their closeness and support, there is a distance between the brothers and they begin to make very different choices even before Subhash leaves for America. How would you describe their relationship? Do you think Udayan's fate would have been different if Subhash had stayed? How does Subhash's connection to his brother affect the decisions he makes after he dies?
  4. What affect did the police beating outside the Tolly Club have on Subhash and Udayan?
  5. At one point, Udayan's mother reflects how for years she and her husband "Together, never speaking, the two of them had taken their evening meals, sitting on the floor under Udayan's death portrait, never acknowledging it" (184). In another passage, Lahari describes a tree that had been uprooted and says "The tree's proportions were more overwhelming, when it lay on the ground. Its presence frightening, once it no longer lived" (199) -- a passage that could be a metaphor for Udayan's death in this story. In what ways does Udayan's death loom large? How important to the novel and the characters' choices is the unspoken part of his death -- the secrets the characters hold and the fact that no one ever talks about what happened?
  6. In the brief section from the perspective of Subhash and Udayan's mother, she reflects,"But Gauri is married again, to Subhash, a turn of events that still stupefies her. In some ways it was less expected, more shocking, than Udayan's death. In some ways, just as devastating" (182). Why do you think she was so devastated by this decision?
  7. Gauri reflects that "Udayan had wanted revolution, but at home he'd expected to be served; his only contribution to the meals was to sit and wait for Gauri or her mother-in-law to put a plate before him" (126). Subhash, on the other hand, cooks and takes care of a child who is not his own with tenderness. Which do you think is more revolutionary?
  8. Why do you think Gauri could not connect to Bela? Did you feel sympathy for Gauri?
  9. Were you satisfied with Subhash and Bela's ultimate relationship and ability to settle down in Rhode Island, find love and raise Meghna? How do you think they were able to come to this place after so much turmoil? To what extent do you think Subhash telling Bela he was not her father contributed to their ability to move on?
  10. What did you think about the revelation that Udayan killed a policeman and Gauri's role in it?
  11. Did you like how Lahari shifted viewpoints throughout the novel? What did you like about the writing? Was there anything you didn't like?
  12. Rate The Lowland on a scale of 1 to 5. If you have read Lahari's other books, share how you think this one compared.
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri was released in September 2013
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
  • 352 pages
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