If you read a lot, and you are very lucky, you will maybe find a writer whose work really speaks to you. And I mean speaks to you in the most clichéd sense of the term—that you read her and you like what you read because who knows why, but probably because in her words, even if they are of something you have never come close to experiencing, you see beauty, and feel at home.
For me, Jhumpa Lahiri is that author. I first read The Namesake early on in high school. It was the first book that my mother passed on to me, and so maybe she, for me, represents some sort of passage into adulthood and maturity and compassion. And then I read Interpreter of Maladies, and then Unaccustomed Earth, which I think is one of the very best books out there. And now The Lowland.
I don’t think that The Lowland is Lahiri’s best work. There were some passages that I thought could have been done away with without hurting (and thus probably helping) the overall book. Lahiri is still, to so many, and I guess to me, too, a short story writer, and there were parts of The Lowland that seemed more appropriate as short stories than as parts of this larger novel.
But what Lahiri does really well is write beautiful sentences. She gave an interview to the New York Times—it was the same one in which she slapped down the question of “immigrant literature,” posed to her because she writes about people from India, as though all of us in the United States didn’t come from somewhere, at some point, as though Philip Roth, hailed by so many as the greatest of our time, didn’t write book after book about Jewish people in New Jersey without people accusing him of only writing about a particular niche—in which she says that she will read anything that makes her want to go from one sentence to another. And that is what she does.
And so, in a way that I didn’t reading The Namesake, or Interpreter of Maladies, or Unaccustomed Earth, I liked The Lowland because I could see the stitching. See how carefully she’d sewn this together. She how beautifully Lahiri threads her words, her sentences, her paragraphs, her chapters. Her stories.