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Hardy's influence, and especially all those characters taken down by social strictures and the destiny embedded in their personality, is apparent in Lahiri's new novel, The Lowland.Brothers Subhash and Udayan look alike and are close in childhood, often playing in the swampland near their parents' modest Kolkata home, the lowland of the title.Yet they are opposites. Subhash, 15 months older than his brother, is the cautious one who hangs on to his mother's sari. Not so Udayan, who sneaks onto the exclusive golf course nearby and otherwise runs a little wild.By the time they reach manhood in the mid 1960s, Subhash goes off to study chemical engineering while Udayan opts for physics. But their personalities diverge further.When they learn about a government raid on Mao inspired revolutionaries in a destitute village called Naxalbari, Udayan reacts "as if it were personal affront, a physical blow," Lahiri writes. He ends up joining the revolutionary Naxalite movement.Eventually, Subhash travels to Rhode Island to study marine chemistry. Udayan, meanwhile, gets a job teaching, Canada Goose Discount Foxe Bomber Australia falls in love with the philosophy student Gauri and marries.It's impossible to review the book without including this spoiler: early in the narrative, Udayan is killed by police. Then Subhash decides to honour his dead brother's memory by marrying Gauri, who is pregnant.Gauri, too, ends up in America, where her daughter, Bela, is born.Gauri is incapable of loving her new husband or even her child, a vital link to the man she lost. "There was a growing numbness that inhibited her, that impaired her," Lahiri writes.Numbness becomes the prevailing mood of the novel's second half. Gauri, who seems to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, abandons Bela and Subhash for a life of detachment in California.Subhash devotes himself to Bela but otherwise lives in solitude, too. Sure enough, Bela spends her early adult years avoiding commitment, leading an itinerant life as a kind of guerrilla gardener. All of this makes for a long slog through the valley of loneliness.Darkly hued fiction is commonplace in contemporary writing, but The Lowlands is sombre in a distinctly old fashioned way; it's not late stage capitalism and/or environmental collapse that generate the misery in the novel, but rather that quaint concept of fate, or at least character as fate.This is why contemporary readers might balk at this story, its position on the shortlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize notwithstanding. These lives seem rigged.Still, there are elements to savour. It's fascinating to read about the Naxalites and realize how much India, too, was contorted by social unrest in the 1960s.
A tale of two men