Forthcoming

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." author Toni Morrison (1931- 05.08.2019)

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me”; Nora Ephron, author/comedian

"Make your story count". Michelle Obama

"Social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus". Researcher/author Sean McElwee writing in Salon, 2016

"We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear."  Chelsea Manning; activist/whisleblower

“My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you, And no fascist minded people, like you, will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson; activist/singer

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent”. from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Frederick Douglass, WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS 4TH JULY? 07.05.1852 (full text in blog)

Senator Elizabeth Warren "We're a country that is built on our differences; that is our strength, not our weakness"

 

"We are more alike than we are different"v  Maya Angelou

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singer at 89

 

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain

 

You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore

 

 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:

 

"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.

 

"The Lowland", a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri

2014-03-12

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“Certain creatures lay eggs that are able to endure the dry season. Others survived by burying themselves in mud, simulating death, waiting for the return of rain.”

The Lowland, a beautifully crafted and compelling read about the divergent careers of two brothers begins with this scene in the gardens of Tollygunge in Calcutta where they play as children. The passage appears to be an innocent setting for the story. Re-reading this page after I’d finished the book, I now interpret these lines as a metaphor for the lives of these Bengali boys as we follow them through fifty years of their lives.

Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, is known for her unmatched skill in portraying the severe and tender intersections where India and America meet. As in her earlier work New England is one setting, Bengal in India is the other. Unlike there, however, The Lowland has a strong political element in that Udayan, the younger brother, joins the leftist anti-government Naxalite movement that emerged in India in the 1960s. (Naxalite politics lingers in the country’s ongoing Maoist rebellion today). The Lowland offers the most convincing, intimate portrait of the Naxalite movement I’ve read. Indeed, some might accuse Lahiri of devoting more attention than necessary to Naxalite history here. But she must have a reason for its inclusion beyond building her plot.

Historical details aside, Lahiri shows us how a rebellion can penetrate the lives of even those (innocents) who flee a country. I can’t help wonder if she recalls this turbulent Indian period in order to contrast challenges facing Indian youth at home with the politically insipid course they follow if they choose to emigrate to the West. Is she saying ‘We can never escape some realities about our homeland’?

The brothers' story moves from childhood, when they’re engaged in seemingly harmless escapades, to old age. Although the younger of the brothers Udayan is killed early in the account, his character and his political choices remain central to the plot. So much so that his mission and his death are never completely resolved. While Udayan chooses political activism, his brother Subhash elects to take up a scholarship in USA. Lives which once seemed inseparable radically diverge. Udayan enters deeper into Naxalite activities; he marries Gauri, a union his family grudgingly accepts, and is assassinated before he knows his young wife is pregnant. Subhash recognizes Gauri’s difficulties on his visit home following his brother’s murder and offers to marry her. She accepts, leaves her unhappy marital home, joins Subhash in the US and gives birth to a daughter, Bela whom they both raise, although from childhood Bela favors Subhash, never suspecting that he is not her real father. When Bela is 12, Gauri abandons both husband and daughter to take up a post at a university on the other side of the country.

We follow Gauri and Subhash through their estrangement, the decline and death of the parents in Calcutta and through Bela’s growth and motherhood, with Udayan’s ghost hovering over each life. Lahiri inserts him into the personality of her characters and through regular flashbacks to India, piece by piece we learn about episodes connected to Udayan’s life and death.

The Lowland is a sad story although the characters themselves are not at all sad. We enjoy their joy and we care about what happens to them. While some readers may find the Indian side of the story foreign, the lives of Subhash and Gauri in the USA feel completely normal:— Gauri’s solitary pursuit of her career, the decision to hide the identity of Bela’s father, and Bela’s growth as a young American woman. Everything that happens, even to the boys’ mother alone in the decaying Calcutta home, seems logical. There is no real cruelty or malice, no judgment, no heroism.

Therein lies author Lahiri’s wisdom and her superb literary skills. We feel affection for all her characters—the rebel Udayan, the self-interested Subhash, an erstwhile lover, the mean-spirited mother-in-law, and the loveless Gauri.

It is a gift to English-speaking readers that Lahiri and other artists from India and elsewhere are able to grasp and work so sympathetically with cultural disparities to create these engaging, rich characters. Given how many Americans embody foreign cultures and histories, we need more writers with the depth, sensibility and skill of Jhumpa Lahiri.

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