Title and Author(s): Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Source: Shipment of Advanced Reader Copies (ARC) which arrived at Harris County Public Library
Summary: Subhash and Udayan Mitra are two brothers who grew up in Post-Partition Calcutta. Subhash, older by a mere fifteen months, and Udayan look alike. However, they’re very different people and have rather opposite destinies. In the 1960s, Udayan’s political fervor rises while Subhash seeks a scientific education in Rhode Island. In the midst of his studies, Subhash receives notice that Udayan was killed near their childhood home. Subhash returns to Calcutta to find the fractured Mitra family and Udayan’s widow, philosophy student Gauri haunted and stuck in those last moments of Udayan’s life. Subhash’s reaction and handling sets an extreme course for the lives Subhash, Gauri, and Mitra family.
One Thing I Learned from this book: Previously I’d heard of the Partition and of the Bengali people. However, I didn’t know much about the Partition of Bengal.
What I Liked: I was mesmerized by Lahiri’s writing style yet again. It’s as though she’s a Rembrandt of words! The way she understands her characters truly enthralls me. I was astonished by what a loving and caring man Subhash was. I’ve yet to visit India or Rhode Island but I have a clear idea of these settings.
What I Disliked: The story itself made me very weepy. I wanted to throttle characters. Most often, it was Gauri! However, Mr. and Mrs. Mitra weren’t my favorites, either. Also, it would’ve helped me if each section/chapter started with a date (at least the year) for when the action of the ensuing section took place.
Rainbow Rating: Orange – Restricted from those under age 17
You might also like:
- Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake
- Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth
- Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections
- Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin
- Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies
- Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
For more, check out the following sites:
Lee, A. (Director), Sharma, S. (Performer), Khan, I., & Hussain, A. (2012). Life of pi [Theater].
Summary : Born Piscine Molitar Patel in idyllic Pondicherry, India takes on the nickname of Pi in order to avoid being called “Pissing Patel.” Pi is the precocious son of a zoo keeper and becomes a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim simultaneously. As tensions grow in 1977, the Patels decide to immigrate to Canada via a Japanese freight boat. When the freighter wrecks, Pi finds himself in the middle of the Pacific on a 26-foot lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, all fighting for survival.
Book to Movie Adaptation : In the book, a few passages are narrated by an “author.” Mostly, the story was told by Pi himself. Early on, director Ang Lee lets viewers listen along with the author as Pi relates his story. For the sake of time, many things were condensed. While still living in India, Pi is old enough in the movie to have a love interest in the movie. Also, Pi’s mother , Gita (played by Tabu) was much less religious in the book. As a number of differences are spoiler-laden, I’ll refer the curious readers to 9 Big Differences Between The Life Of Pi Movie And Book.
Four Out of Five Pearls
Lahiri, J. (2008). Unaccustomed earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9780307265739
Reasons for Reading : I’m not a big fan of short stories. However, as I’ve enjoyed Lahiri’s The Namesake, I pulled Unaccustomed Earth off the shelf at the HCPL branch where I work.
Summary: Lahiri tells eight stories of first generation Bengali Americans. All these stories deal with the ups and downs of families and relationships.
Unaccustomed Earth is broken into two parts. Part I is comprised of the first five stories. Among them are “Unaccustomed Earth,” “Hell-Heaven,” “A Choice of Accommodations,” “Only Goodness,” and “Nobody’s Business.” The book is the namesake of “Unaccustomed Earth” tells of Ruma, a young mother in Seattle. When Ruma hosts her visiting widower father, she prepares for him to live with them. While her father tends to her garden and bonds with her son, he has his own ideas about what he wants to do. “Hell-Heaven” confronts the topics of social strata in both old and new worlds. “A Choice of Accommodations” shares the nearly failed attempt of a husband to turn an old high school friend’s wedding into a romantic weekend for his wife. Lahiri tells of a sister who doesn’t know what to do about her alcoholic brother in “Only Goodness.” Part I ends with “Nobody’s Business,” a lovesick grad student watches his lovely Bengali roommate’s life implode.
Part II is called “Hema and Kaushik.” These three stories – “Once in a Lifetime,” “Year’s End,” and “Going Ashore” focus on two characters – Hema and Kaushik. Teenage Kaushik and his family stay with young Hema’s family. While they go on to lead very seperate lives, circumstances reunite them twenty years later.
What I Liked : Lahiri’s writing style compels me to continue reading her work. I found myself empathizing with the jerkiest of jerks and understanding their plights. Lahiri’s talent shines from within Unaccustomed Earth.
What I Disliked : By the time I’m absorbed and enthralled in the story, it has ended! I especially wanted to read more about Hema and Kaushik.
Four Out of Five Pearls
Setting: Cambridge Massachusetts, Seattle, India, Italy, Thailand
You might also like:
- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- Drown by Junot Díaz
- People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
For more on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, check out the following sites:
Eugenides, J. (2011). The marriage plot. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 9780374203054
Reasons for Reading : Yippee!!! Jeffrey Eugenides wrote another book. When I saw The Marriage Plot on the bestseller’s list, I added my name to the waiting list for a copy from HCPL.
Summary: Starting the morning of Class of 1982’s graduation from Brown University, Madeleine Hanna faces the cold, hard reality of her breakup with Darwinist biologist Leonard Bankhead and very little promise of grad school in the near future. Her take on the marriage plot and Jane Austen’s novels hasn’t exactly wowed Yale Grad School. More immediately, she must deal with her parents. As the Hannas treat Madeleine to breakfast, Mitchell Grammaticus, a student of Christian mysticism, who believes Madeleine is his soul mate. As Madeleine and Leonard make up and head out to a lab on Cape Cod, Mitchell takes a world tour, aiming to forget Madeleine.
What I Liked : Author Jeffrey Eugenides describes everything so well. I could see these dysfunctional characters. While I am a generation behind them, I still recognized the confusion of life beyond graduaton. Characters such as Madeleine and Mitchell were quite familiar because all three of us over-analyze practically everything.
The ending, which I will not reveal, was to my liking as well.
What I Disliked : One of my friends who read the book before I did warned me about some extra descriptive passages within the book. Going in with my eyes open, I found this book to have high cringe factor.
Also, I wished for more breaks – such as chapters. The Marriage Plot definitely is broken down into parts. However, these sections were, well, stealthy. With these Ivy League alum, much intertextuality can be found with the covers. That’s cool, especially the mention of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline. While this techniques offers context, it also made the book with the long sections seem infinitely longer. I’m not even going to touch the semiotics within, either.
I wanted to throttle, above all other characters, Leonard and Madeleine’s sister, Alwyn. Amongst a strange and disillusioned and delusional cast, these two deserved the padded cells and straight jackets the most.
Lastly, I liked both The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex better. Eugenides’ previous novels offered, above all else, unique narrators. The former spoke in the form of a group of men reflecting upon something from their adolescence while the latter had the incomparably omniscient Cal Stephanides. The Marriage Plot had ordinary third person omniscient points of view.
Three Out of Five Pearls
Setting : Providence, Rhode Island; Detroit, New York City, New Jersey; Portland, Oregan; Cape Cod, Boston, Provincetown, India, France, Ireland, Greece
You might also like:
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
- The Graduate by Charles Webb
- The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
For more on Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, check out the following sites:
Gilbert, E. (2006). Eat, pray, love: [one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia]. New York: Penguin Audio. 9780143058526
As I sought more material for the 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge, I requested Eat, Pray, Love through HCPL. While I hardly recommend watching the movie before reading the book, I saw the film just a month or so before requesting the audio.
Thirty-something Elizabeth “Liz” Gilbert seems to have everything. She’s a successful writer and she’s married. Yet, she is completely miserable. So, after a bitter divorce and a tempestuous relationship with a younger guy, Liz seeks out pleasure and spiritual devotion. She treks through Italy, India, and Indonesia (Bali) during one year and journals her self-discovery.
There were some points I didn’t care for in the book but I’m really pleased that I checked out this audiobook. The book seemed natural and authentic, especially since Liz also narrated. It even led me to check out what is considered a sequel to Eat, Pray, Love. While I don’t agree with her on some spiritual aspects, I appreciated Liz relating her views.
Four Out of Five Pearls
Places: United States, Italy, India, Indonesia, Southeast Asia
You might also like:
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
- Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
For more on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, check out the following:
- Book Review: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert | Emlyn Chand
- The Shiny Adventures of a Browncoat Mommy: “Eat, Pray, Love” – A Spoiler-Free Book Review
- Book Review: Eat Pray Love | Life Coaches Blog
Martel, Y., & Woodman, J. (2002). Life of pi a novel. Minneapolis, MN: HighBridge. 9781565117792
I remember when Good Morning America announced it’s next book club read was Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Life of Pi is a novel in three parts with one hundred chapters Since then, I have seen Life of Pi repeatedly listed among my friends’ favorite books. I decided I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about and I was in for a treat. I checked out the audiobook version of Life of Pi (it’s citation is provided above) and enjoyed it immensely.
Part One begins with a wandering author in search of a story. While in Pondicherry, the capital of what was French India, the unnamed writer meets the elderly Francis Adirubasamy. Adirubasamy mentions the great story of Pi Patel. This is one that “will make you believe in God.” The author says that only Pi can tell this story. On the audio, there are two voices: the one of the author and that of Pi.
We first meet Piscene “Pi” Molitor Patel as a middle-aged man living with his family in Canada. He double-majored in Religion and Zoology. He voices the question that this is such an odd pairing. From there, the audience discovers that Pi was the son of a weary zoo keeper and a follower of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. His affinity for both animals and loving God is expressed fervently by Pi. He’s also quite witty; forming the nickname of Pi so he deals less with classmates destroying his given name. All of this is in the midst of the Indian period called “The Emergency.” Due to political instability experienced in 1977 India, Pi’s father makes the hard decision to sell the zoo and its animals and immigrate with his family to Canada.
So, the Patels and numerous animals who once resided at the Pondicherry Zoo, sail upon a Japanese cargo ship to Canada. Part Two presents the sinking ship. Jumping into the water, Pi pulls himself into a lifeboat. Soon, he finds himself on board with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan called Orange Juice, and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. As the back cover mentions, it takes Pi’s knowledge of animals and his faith to survive. When he does, can anyone really believe that he managed within such a menagerie?
I have learned much from this book. I learned all kinds of things about animals such as tigers can make a sound referred to as “prusten” which means no harm. Another thing I found within Pi’s ordeal was that it would take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith not only to survive but to believe. Allegorical or not, Life of Pi is now one of my favorite books, too.
Places: India, Pacific Ocean, Mexico, Canada
4 1/2 Pearls.
Lahiri, J. (2003). The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 0618485228
Young Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli have come from Calcutta, India to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the late 1960s. Ashoke is an engineering professor at MIT and Ashima is desperately homesick and pregnant. In 1968, Ashima finds herself going into labor and she gives birth to a son in an American hospital. The Gangulis await a letter from Ashima’s grandmother to arrive; one which will have the name for their son. The grandmother has not told anyone the name. This is a Bengali tradition. Somehow, the letter becomes lost before reaching the Gangulis in Massachusetts and the grandmother dies. Another Bengali custom is to give children a pet name as well as a formal one. However, the pet name of Gogol (namesake of the Russian writer) becomes the formal name of the Gangulis’ son. Being an Indian American and the namesake of a Russian writer further complicates the experience of the first generation American in his search for identity. Throughout the rest of the book, Gogol struggles to find himself as a person who has one foot in his parents’ Bengali existence and the other in the pervasive land of his birth, America. Gogol even reaches the point of trying to solve his “name problem.”
The Namesake definitely tells of the Asian Indian experience in the United States. While the story is delivered in third person, most of the narrative is seen through the eyes of protagonist, Gogol Ganguli. A couple of key parts of the book are spent with Ashima Ganguli and these capture the confusion of a person in unfamiliar territory.Yet, it is Gogol and his younger sister, Sonia, who teach their parents about American traditions such as Christmas. Later in the book, Gogol faces further issues of bridging the gap of East and West. There are numerous events within the book where Ashima is hosting a party where Indian food is served and enjoyed in great proportions. As an adult, Gogol compares the experience of eating dinner with the Gangulis to that of dining with the family of a Caucasian woman he dates as an adult. Another element not to be missed in the book is the arranged marriage of Ashoke and Ashima versus marriage for “love” at which the American Gangulis seek.
I decided to read The Namesake because it illustrates a contemporary immigrant experience in addition to one of a first generation American. When the reader is with Ashima, he or she sees life of a bewildered and lonely woman in a strange place. Then, Gogol shows what it is like to be the link between India and America for his parents. I found both Ashima and Gogol to be sympathetic characters making the best of their respective plights. These two are good hearted and well-intentioned. Also, the Gangulis and most of the other characters in this book were very easy to recognize for me and I am not Bengali. I learned a whole lot about some Indian traditions and moral dilemmas (i.e. vegetarianism, celebrating Christmas, etc).
Not only would I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about Bengali life in America or readers looking for an experience similar to their own, I would suggest this to anyone who enjoys good literature. Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters and situations are very realistic and encourage readers to consider the answers to questions like “Who am I really?” and “Am I defined by my family or my name?” This is a great read for patrons wanting something a little different and edifying. Also, fans of Madame Bovary and ironic situations would appreciate this book. I do not imagine the Christian fiction audience would like it much due to bad language and sexual situations. This is not a light, fluffy book, either. I would be excited to encourage anyone else to read The Namesake.
4.75 out of 5 Pearls