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The Lowland

The Lowland

The Lowland Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri, the daughter of Indian immigrants from the state of West Bengal, was born in London but raised in the United States, where her father worked as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island. After studying creative writing, comparative literature, and Renaissance Studies at Boston University, Lahiri began a distinguished record of publication with her debut short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake, was published in 2003 and later adapted into a film in 2007. Lahiri has frequently published stories in the prestigious New Yorker magazine throughout her career, and, in 2014, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal for her contribution to American letters. As of 2015, Jhumpa Lahiri writes fiction and nonfiction primarily in Italian—a language she taught herself after she began feeling “exiled” from the English language.
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Historical Context of The Lowland

The turbulence of 1960s and 1970s India is at the forefront of The Lowland—even as the novel moves temporally past the early days of the Naxalite movement and the splintering of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) into the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). The extreme physical and ideological violence of the period resonates throughout the lives of Subhash, Gauri, and indeed their daughter, Bela, though she is raised in a foreign country, ostensibly removed from the painful truth of her family’s very personal involvement with the violence and terrorism of the Naxalites. The movement, which grew out of the CPI(ML)’s support for the peasants of Naxalbari—sharecroppers who rose up against the unfair and predatory practices of the upper classes who drove them off their land yet forced them to continue working it without profit—threatened the city of Calcutta and the state of West Bengal more widely. Those who supported Maoist ideals of anti-imperialism and the overthrow of landowners and landlords attempted to spread radical Communist ideology throughout the territory. Though quelled in the early 1970s, the Naxalite movement has resurfaced throughout the decades, entering into violent conflict with the Indian government even in 2018.

Other Books Related to The Lowland

Neel Mukherjee’s 2014 novel The Lives of Others is also set in West Bengal in the 1960s and features a protagonist who abandons his prosperous life in Calcutta to join the Naxalite movement after being radicalized by witnessing the extreme poverty—and destructive, lingering feudalism—of the countryside. Arundhati Roy’s 2011 book Walking with the Comrades provides a nonfictional account of the enduring struggles between the Indian state and the Naxalite movement—a battle which she describes as one “for the soul of India.”
Key Facts about The Lowland
  • Full Title: The Lowland
  • When Written: Early 2010s
  • When Published: 2013
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Setting: Calcutta, West Bengal, India; Rhode Island, USA
  • Climax: Decades after abandoning her life in Rhode Island, Gauri Mitra returns to personally hand a set of signed divorce papers to Subhash, only to come face-to-face with their daughter, Bela.
  • Antagonist: Gauri Mitra
  • Point of View: Various

Extra Credit for The Lowland

Award-Worthy. The Lowland received the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2014 and was placed on short- and long-lists for the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize.

Drawn From Life. The protagonist of The Lowland, Subhash Mitra, travels from West Bengal to Rhode Island to work at a university in Providence. Though unnamed throughout the book, the university is easily recognizable as the University of Rhode Island—the place where Lahiri’s own father, himself an academic and an immigrant from West Bengal, worked as a librarian. The University of Rhode Island is also the setting of one of Larhiri’s best-known pieces of short fiction, the short story “The Third and Final Continent.”