The Lowland

March book selectionHi, friends! I hope you enjoyed our March book club selection: The Lowland. I thoroughly enjoyed this read. But as I mentioned when we announced this month's selection, I am a Jhumpa Lahiri fan. This is her fourth book and second novel. I've read all her books, and I was not at all disappointed by this one.

Before we jump into our discussion, I want to note, as always, this WILL LIKELY HAVE SPOILERS. So if you are not are quite finished reading, you might consider waiting to read this post until you are done.

I was talking to Trey about this book the other day. He was not reading along, but I still feel the need to discuss books with him, which is kind of a funny thing since I basically have to back up and tell him all about the plot and then dive into whatever point I'm trying to make. He's a much more patient listener than I am a storyteller. Anyway, I was telling him I felt like this novel centered so much more on the characters and story than it does the culture, politics, or religion of whatever part of the world it's based in (being based both in India and the United States, so it changes at times). That is one thing that Lahiri is so talented at. I absolutely love how I meet characters who are so different from me. Their world view has been shaped in a completely different way than mine due to our very different backgrounds/cultures. And yet, I don't feel disconnected from them. I feel like we are similar in many ways, that our differences are just our backgrounds, even though these facts shape the story. The politics of Subhash and Udayan's India greatly shaped their lives, shortening Udayan's significantly. 

So, yeah. My hat's off (once again) to Jhumpa Lahiri. She's awesome.

Let's discuss! I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of the following (feel free to number your comment to correspond to the discussion point). Or you can talk about anything else that struck you about the book.

1. Udayan and Subhash are brothers and yet SO different. Their personalities and approaches to life really could not be more different. How does this affect their relationship to each other, to Gauri? How do these changes reflect in their relationship with their parents?

2. Although Subhash seeks to be more easygoing in life than Udayan and to be more obedient to his parents, he still has two very big rebellious moves he makes in life. First, he moves to America to continue his studies. He partly admits this is to take a step that he knows Udayan would not and thus distinguish himself from his brother. Also his marriage to Guari is against his parents' wishes, but he feels it's the right thing to do. What do you think about these decisions? Do they lead Subhash to a happy life?

3. What do you make of Subhash's brief relationship with Holly? Love? Just being lonely? A combination of the two?

4. To me, Gauri is a picture of feminism gone wrong, which is an oversimplification, of course. What do you make of her as a person, mother, wife, and—ultimately—a scholar?

5. What do you think of Bela's reaction to her parents' split? How do you think it shapes her future and what she chooses to do with her life?

Don't forget that next month we are reading Longbourn so pick up your copy ASAP if you haven't already. xo. Emma

  • I quite liked this book, I wanted to love it but I felt that after such a driven storyline the last sentences did not make for a conclusive finish. However, my thoughts:

    3) The relationship between Subhash and Holly to me was one of the most relatable parts. I don’t think it was love or even necessarily loneliness. Rather just having someone to forgot the world with for a bit. I think their relationship was more to do with friendship than anything else. It seemed that when they were together their other problems didn’t matter and that it was very in-the-moment thinking. In terms of how I related maybe it is the calmness of their relationship, the want we all get sometimes to get away for a moment of the everyday for us.

    As of yet, I haven’t quite summed up my thoughts on Gauri, I disliked her for her choices and her stubbornness. But unable to relate to her circumstances I don’t know how to feel about her. I almost wonder if in a way her unhappiness and bitter nature were punishment for her self inflicted blindness to what she was doing with Udayan involving the policeman. Obviously that was one of the reasons she felt that way but was it also a punishment inflicted upon her by the writer??

  • Grace, I also enjoyed Bela’s return it was uplifting and there was a need for this to happen in the book.
    Thanks for lovely comment

  • This book took me a little longer to read than the last. I think some of the subject matter with Udayan’s political struggles and Gauri’s abandoning the family stressed me out at times and I found that I needed to take a break from this book, but I’m glad I finished it. I think the character development was really well written and I enjoyed allowing this book to take me to a place I’ve never been before (India) and I learned about a political situation I hadn’t been made aware of before.

    1. I felt like Udayan was like the yin to Subhash’s yang. One was obedient while the other was rebellious and they complemented each other well in their childhood. But as we get older, people tend to seek and build friendships with others of similar interests, so I thought it seemed natural for them to grow apart as they grew older.
    Gauri seemed to become attracted to Udayan as he was becoming more involved with politics and the rebellion. Even though Udayan and Subhash shared a similar voice and looks, it seemed early on that a romance between Subhash and Gauri would be unlikely because Subhash didn’t have any of the personality characteristics or interests that Udayan had. Although this didn’t stop me from hoping that she would grow to love Subhash for his kindness, generosity and the way he took care of Bela- but that didn’t happen.

    2. I started to respect Subhash’s character more when he chose to go to America to distinguish himself and when he chose to marry Gauri to give her a better life, although this move seemed to have limited his happiness to some extent. While he did find happiness in raising Bela, his marriage to Gaurui did extend the time it took for him to find a loving companion.

    3. Subhash’s relationship with Holly was his first relationship in the western world, where he was free to choose his own partner and be intimate without an expectation of marriage. I’m not sure if it was really love or not, but more of an exploration of a modern relationship in the western world.

    4. I agree with many others, that Gauri’s character was very complex. It’s easy to be angry at her character for abandoning her family with minimal contact for so many years. But, I found myself wanting to sympathize with her character- thinking that her life could have been so different had she been born in another place where she wouldn’t have been expected to wear a widows sari and live with Udayan’s parents after his death, or if she’d lived in a place that wasn’t under such political turmoil and she could have just continued her studies.

    5. The split between Subhash and Gauri seemed to really make it’s mark on Bela and it seemed to take her a long time to come to terms with the split. It seemed that Bela’s travelling from farm to farm was a way to prevent herself from being involved in any long-term relationships to avoid additional abandonment, and I felt like Bela telling her daughter and others that her mother was dead instead the truth was and unhealthy defence mechanism. It wasn’t until she met the farmer at the end that Bela finally shared the truth about what Gauri did and Bela seemed to finally come to terms with what had happened. I wish she would have been able to come to terms sooner.

  • i always buy her books the moment they are pre-order ready. she’s one of the best writers of my generation, in my humble opinion 🙂

  • JUST finished it! Deep breath, big sigh. LOVED it! You know you’re into a good book when you are thinking about the characters whilst on the school run.

    I must admit it took me a little while to get hooked into the book, but once the descriptions and scene settings of S & U’s childhood had passed I was drawn in.

    I found the character of Gauri fascinating. I think society can be such a harsh judge of women who leave their children. I believe the trauma of losing her husband and an unexpected pregnancy, isolation from all she had known in India, and the guilt of her part in Udayan’s plot would have altered my mental state immensely. I thought there were hints at postnatal depression too e.g. Gauri recognising that she wasn’t bonding with her daughter and being happy when Subhash took her in the night. It felt to me as though Gauri was punishing herself throughout her life and thie neglect was a consequence of this. By going to California Gauri appeared to be setting them all free from the difficult life she had created.

  • Hi Kari,

    In answer to your question: I thought the lowland represented the two brothers as it contained two separate ponds. Yet during monsoon when the lowland flooded the two ponds become one, representing the strong natural connection throughout their lives.

    I think it is deliberate by Lahiri that at the end of the book when Subhash finally is at peace with his life (as a father, grandfather and in a loving marriage to Elise) and on his honeymoon it is the exact time that Gauri returns to India, and to Udayan’s family home, where she finds the lowland no longer exists.

    Hope this helps!!

  • I know I am a little late to the party, but here are my two thoughts…

    Something that has been mentioned above is the parents (especially mother) never being able to move on after Udayan’s death, staying in a permanent state of grief for the rest of their lives, and arguably pushing Subhash away. In his life Udayan dominated the family who willingly bent to his needs, yet chose to prioritise his self and political cause before them. And even after death Subhash is a second thought to his parents whether he does the ‘right’ thing (remaining in US for his career advancement) or rebels against them (marrying Gauri). He never receives the appreciation and love he craves from his parents (something he hates to admit) as their attention is always preoccupied with worry over Udayan. This really struck a nerve with me regarding his parents unequal devotion to their children, especially directed towards their son who disrespects them with his neglectful and disloyal actions. I don’t mean to suggest it should be more directed to Subhash, but they should have found other ways to show him their love as an equal to his brother. I found it extremely saddening to witness this (Subhash and his parents unravelling relationship), more so than experiencing his marriage to Gauri ending. During the course of the book, unlike many readers who ended disliking Gauri’s character and choices, I ended up disliking the parents who made Subhash always question their love and ultimately discouraged him from returning to India after his studies to live the life he was expecting (having a traditional arranged marriage).

    On a positive note, I thought the best part of The Lowland was Bela returning to Subhash to have her baby. It shows that he had learnt from his parents mistakes and succeeded with his relationship with Bela in creating a loving and open family home. Also, giving Subhash the gift of his granddaughter was so sweet, and interestingly one -if not the only- cultural tradition that he actually happily partakes in (even though Indian customs/traditions is a huge theme throughout the book).

    Finally I really loved reading all the comments and its a true testament to The Lowland for providing so many different opinions and angles, yet I can easily understand and agree with everyones conclusions 🙂 Fantastic read!!

  • First of all, I want to thank Emma for this choice, this is the first novel by Lahiri that I read and I’m totally fond of her! I agree with Lyndsay, Gauri is the character who impressed me the nigh. She is a complex and deeply hard character to totally understand, and I loved this book so much also because of this picture of her.
    I believe that the burden of Udayan death and his desire to not have children had contributed to Gauri’s attitude toward Bela. But I also think that maybe Gauri herself didn’t want to have children. She never wanted to be a mother, probably, that’s why she’d never been a good one.
    Likewise, about the point 4, I think that the little Holly storyline serves as a sort of mise-en-abyme of what Subhash is going to be: a kind of childless father. Moreover, it is a micro representation of the complexity of a marriage relationship, in which the space for the “other” is always limited.

  • I thought Lahiri’s leaps between present and past caused me to form a first impression and then re-evaluate based on a new revelation of the past. We didn’t find out about the policeman until fairly late in the book. It added some complexity to my thoughts on Gauri and her relationship with Udayan. I have never lost anyone tragically in that way, but I felt that her bitterness and the way she closed herself off for so long (even after moving to California) was disproportionate to having been with Udayan for such a short time. I felt like the tragedy with the policeman made me realize there was something more, it wasn’t purely that she lost the man she loved. When Udayan looked in her face after the police have found him in the lowland, he saw an expression he had not seen before. I can’t remember what word was used but it was something along the lines of disillusion or disconnected. He continued to have a hold over her for the rest of her life, but it wasn’t just love, I think she was also holding herself responsible for the choices she made as a very young woman.

    I was trying to figure out what on earth the lowland may represent. Any ideas???

  • This is my first book of jhumpa and enjoyed it very much. This book left me with a desire to learn more about Indian culture, it’s traditions and customs. Thorough her pages you can even smell, scents and aromas she describes, feel and connect to the sadness of the characters and visualise and imagine so vividly each chapter.
    I guess the brothers spiritual connection was inseparable and this carried through out the entire book. Even though physically they were apart and even beyond udayan’s death, the connection was still there. They both had passion towards their goal in life, udayan, from even a young age, his mum recalls how he used to see social inequality even in the smallest details, such as the way inequality existed in his very own home with the servants that worked for their parents. He continued this passion and I can understand why he seemed selfish ad With this determination also came loss, he knew he was already losing his family and Gauri. Subhash, was also determined with his academic passion. I think that he saw the opportunity to leave India not to end up following his brothers path.

    Gauri fell in love of the idea of Udayan, what he represented to her, they shared similar philosophies about life and this enticed her. When he dies, she feels guilty that she took part of his death in an indirect way, and a part of her dies with him. Bela was a constant reminder of Udayan and I believe she simply retreated to be alone, perhaps it was to hard to face this responsibility, which from a young age, her character seems as an independent, feminist woman that wouldn’t be tied to living a married life. I didn’t like her character and she upset me many times,but again empathized with how she got beaten by life and death and this would be something enormous to carry. Hard to be in her shoes and to judge on her decisions she made, making her character so hard to accept.
    I felt very sorry for shubash. I believe he always had been a person who wanted to please and do the right thing, which was help Gauri and Bela. Felt very sorry how Bela pushes him aside when growing up, however understand that as a teenager the view of the world can be very narcissistic and needed to get to know herself. Glad she gave him a great opportunity to reconnect and become the grandfather he deserved to be.
    Nice book…. Happy to have joined this book club and already reading April’s selection

  • This was my first Jhumpa Lahiri book. It was hard for me to get into it at first, but I enjoyed it in the end.

    1. I thought it was interesting that Subhash and Udayan weren’t twins. They shared some similarities (voice, some looks?), but they also had distinct differences. Also, it was interesting that Udayan had a stronger personality than Subhash, despite him being the younger brother. They’re like two halves of a whole – both the yin and and the yang. When one disappears, there is a permanent imbalance.

    2. Subhash’s (and Gauri’s) move to the United States makes me contemplate my family’s immigration to the US (I’m 1st-generation Filipino-American). I think Subhash needed to leave India to find himself and distinguish himself from Udayan. Although he had rebellious actions, his did not result in anything negative.

    It’s disheartening – Udayan’s story. He wants to do good and help those less fortunate, but nothing positive comes out of his actions. He also goes about it in a destructive way. Bela is a result of something Udayan did, but she was an accident, something he never knew about. Similar to her real father, she has the desire to help others, but she does so in a constructive way that doesn’t harm others.

    Subhash faced many hardships as a result of his actions, but I’m glad that he ends up happy. I’m also glad that he had the courage to tell Bela the truth about Udayan.

  • I feel like on the one hand it’s easy to blame Gauri for abandoning her child, BUT I do wonder what would have happened if Subhash had been more supportive of her desire to have a life outside of child care. Would he have acted like that if they were in love or if he was Bela’s real father? It was almost like he felt that he had done enough by marrying her and bringing her to the US, so why should he have to act as a real partner.

  • The thing that most struck me about The Lowland was that Udayan, in his effort to help his country, sacrificed the people closest to him. He chose a path that did not include the knowledge or approval of his family and in the end he paid the smallest price. Dying was easy in comparison to living with the consequences of his actions. He did not throw a pebble, but his entire family, into the water and caused a ripple effect that will stretch out for generations.

  • I really enjoyed this book and had never heard of this author before…I’m glad I know her now!

    1/2)To me, the biggest difference between Udayan and Subhash is Udayan’s selfishness. Yes, Udayan was fighting for a bigger cause and in his mind it was to help people, but ultimately, he didn’t care who he hurt in order to achieve it. He knew he was putting his family at risk, he knew he risked leaving his wife a widow and his parents without a child, and he knew he would be hurting (even killing) innocent people, like the police officer (even if he had a skewed vision of who was and wasn’t innocent). Subhash moves to America because in my opinion, it is the first decision he is able to make entirely on his own and completely for himself (instead of always living in Udayan’s shadow), but it didn’t cause harm to anybody. His decision to marry Gauri, even if he had an initial attraction to her, was to save her and her child and to make up for what Udayan couldn’t do (which was stay alive to take care of his family). Through their entire marriage I always felt so sad for Subhash because he was such a committed father and would have been a committed husband had Gauri let him. Subhash grew up to be a man who made decisions based on what he thought was right (not blindly making decisions based on what his parents thought was right, like when he was younger).

    It was irritating that even after his death, everything was about Udayan. But I think that reinforced the author’s point she made from the beginning about him – no matter what troubles he brought about, Udayan carried some force that just attracted people to him. Even though Subhash did everything his parents wished (up until marrying Gauri), even though he went on to lead an academic and successful life, it seemed like his parents (and Gauri) only cared about Udayan. Subhash really was the saddest character, and I’m so happy that his relationship with his daughter was rekindled and that he gained a granddaughter, a new wife, and stepchildren…though it took such a heartbreaking(ly) long time for him to get there. He deserved it.

    3) I think Subhash’s relationship with Holly was like any first relationship in that it really just introduces you to it. Ultimately, I don’t think he loved her. But Holly showed him what a loving relationship with someone could be, and I was happy that she gave him that. Of course he was lonely, and she filled that void. But Subhash even said he would never marry her (his reason was because his parents would choose his wife, but I think had he fallen truly, deeply in love with someone, he would have found a way around that. Obviously he goes against their wishes with Gauri later on).

    4) Gauri was a tricky character. You wanted to hate her, but at the same time, you felt like there was so much more to her we just can’t understand. I couldn’t quite place her relationship with Udayan…was she really so madly, obsessively in love with him that for the next 40 years of her life she couldn’t move on? I think her feelings toward Bela were misplaced; I think she was in fact angry with Udayan for leaving her, especially with his child to raise on her own. The author even wrote how Gauri struggled with her relationship toward her daughter…how she didn’t want to fail at being a mother, how it should have been so easy to love her daughter. But again, Udayan was selfish and left her with this child, a child he didn’t even want in the first place. What she did was Subhash was in itself so horrific. She didn’t have to love him, she didn’t even have to stay married to him. But she was a coward and disappeared, much like Udayan did when he ran to hide in the water behind their house. Did he really emerge to save his parents and wife? Or was it because he couldn’t breathe?

    5) I think Bela’s reaction to her mother leaving was accurate in a case like that. As a child all you want is the love from your parents; in their eyes, they can do no wrong. If a parent is unhappy with the child, the child doesn’t blame the parent, the child blames him/herself. So that’s what Bela did. But again, she shouldn’t have abandoned Subhash like he did…again, he’s bearing the weight of Udayan’s bad choices. And though Bela wouldn’t see her father for such long stretches of time, I was so happy that she did recognize what a great man and father he was.

  • I absolutely loved this book and some of the comments/perspectives people have put forth here. As an Indian Immigrant living in the US, I identify so strongly with the themes raised by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her description is both melancholy and nostalgic, and I think it speaks to her genius as an author that people are able to transport themselves into the world she creates. It was so interesting to me to hear that people could identify with the characters in spite of cultural differences. I didn’t think of it before, but it makes sense:)

    I agree with you Emma, Gauri’s character is so complex. I was initially so inspired by her; I can only imagine some of the traditional roles and images associated with being an Indian woman she must have fought against, both in Calcutta (by marrying Udayan) and her life in the US (in pursuing a PhD). Of course, it became harder to like her character as Bela grew up. It felt as though she was so angry with Bela, and that made me so angry with Gauri. Bela seemed like a particularly perceptive child and of course this had an impact on the way she perceived the world.

    On a different note, I love this blog!! It’s beautiful, fun and happy. But the thing that makes it special in my eyes is that it is very real- love how you guys don’t shy away from sharing the hard stuff along with the good.

    I’m a psych doctoral student, can you tell?:)

  • First off, I really, really enjoyed this book. It might be one of my top 10 favorites right now. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the best story tellers I have found and I really will have a hard time lending a copy of this to my mom, for fear that I will never get it back. I will probably re-read it again one day.

    I want to touch on the topic of how Gauri could leave her family. It being the 70s, it was almost unheard of that a mother would leave her whole family to pursue whatever she wanted to do. Even today, people would shake their heads at a woman who would leave her family to follow dreams and aspirations that they couldn’t do while being a parent and/or spouse. She never wanted children, and she never quite grasped the reality of her situation. She accidentally got pregnant, married someone she didn’t love, and sacrificed her desire for furthering her education. After all that, I was surprised she lasted 11 years in Rhode Island. I still couldn’t believe she had cut all ties completely with her only family. I have heard of women leaving their family life but never fully cutting them off. The pain she caused to Bella was definitely unforgivable.

  • Yes, I don’t think Subhash ever expected Gauri to love him as she had Udayan. I think he would have been satisfied with something different, but Gauri didn’t seem to open up to the possibility. Perhaps because she felt that Subhash reminded her too much of Udayan and the loss she experienced there. But it is a pity because he is a good man, and great dad so you can’t help but feel that they may have been able to build a good life together had they both been open to it.


  • I’m still reading, so I’ve just skipped over everyone’s comments!! Will try and catch up soon and then come back to this post…. P x

  • I agree with one of the comments above that Subash’s two major rebellious decisions did make his life happier because he got away from his family and India and was able to have a successful life and be a good father to Bela. Even though his parents were so caught up in Udayan’s life and death, he was able to have a relatively happy life. Subash’s relationship with Holly was another rebellious decision, but less so than moving to America and marrying Gauri. I think he probably thought that he loved her at the time, but as his life went on, he probably realized that he was just looking for another way to go against the life his parents had planned for him. As for Gauri, there’s no doubt that she was an excellent scholar. She was an intelligent woman and was passionate about her work. However, I didn’t like her as a person at all because I feel like she behaved very selfishly and caused a lot of pain to her daughter. I did feel sorry for her when Bela said she was dead to her, that would be hard to hear from anyone, especially your daughter. Bela was the character that I liked the most, I loved how she overcame her past and was able to let Subash back into her life, have a child, and eventually find love. All in all, I enjoyed this book, it was different than anything I would have chosen to read on my own, which is one reason why I really like the book club, I’ve been able to branch out more!

  • I absolutely love this book. I think it became one of my favorite books of all time. Thanks for the selection!

    I think I could completely relate to Subhash. I’m an older sister and I have always followed the rules and been obedient to my parents. I think Subhash has a very underrated, quiet, rebellion. He understands the circumstances around him but he also wants to be happy and do what to him is the right thing (going to America, Holly, and Gauri).

    I felt frustrated that Udayan was so blinded by his cause that he forgot to really appreciate what he had. He alienated his brother, he endangered his family, and then he lost his life. I think him and Gauri are similar in that they disregarded their families in order to achieve another goal.

    Gauri to me was a very complex character. I rooted for her even if she made me hate her. I wanted her to in the end respect Subhash as her equal partner and love her daughter as the last piece of Uduyan she had. I understand why it was hard for her but had she been as strong as Subhash or Udayan, I believe everything might have turned out differently. She definitely made the choices she did for a reason but she went about them the wrong way. I think she purposely alienated herself and did not give Subhash the chance he gave her. He didn’t ask for her love, and he wasn’t expecting it, either, I feel. But she killed every chance of at least a friendship between them.

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  • I just stumbled upon this book club. So excited to find other readers! I’ll jump into this book, for sure. What a wonderful idea 🙂

  • I wonder how much of this is a cultural difference. Like if culturally the mourning process is so laborious in India that it is difficult to do anything other than be preoccupied with the death?

    In a similar line of discussion, I wonder if part of Gauri’s problem is the cultural expectation of a widow in India and everything she cared about, including her unconventional marriage to Udayan in the first place, was a part of her dissatisfaction.

    Along these lines, I am much more interested in the culture of India and learning amore about their political movements after reading The Lowland. Great pick for March!

  • Yes, Bela seems to have overcome some of the mistakes that her mother made. It’s interesting because she has a hard time with her feelings toward Drew, as she’s afraid to long term commitment because she never had a successful example of it growing it up. But she never had a great example of a mother either and she proves that she is able to overcome this and be the best mom she can be anyway. And i love that.


  • I loved this book SO much.
    1) I didn’t hate Gauri at all. Hated her choices, of course, but not her. I feel like she made the (horrible) decision to leave because the pain of Udayan’s death was too much. In the same way that parents often split after a child’s death because they are painful reminders of the death. In this way, Bella is that painful reminder. And, in the end, Gauri suffers so much because of her decision. She almost seems to relish in her pain, a self-imposed suffering.
    2) As far as Udayan and Subash’s differences, I think Udayan was the perfect example of someone not fully thinking through choices, just living by their heart. Which is great, but can lead to bad ends. Subash, on the other hand, carefully selected his two “rebellious choices” and they both led to happiness. His life in America, I think, brought him much more joy and fulfillment than his staying in India would have brought. And obviously, being Bella’s father brought him the greatest joy and fulfillment of his life.

    The last thing I’d like to say is that I thought it was so very lovely of Jumpha Lahiri to allow Bella this final note to Gauri in the book. It showed that Bella was not defeated by bitterness, as Gauri was. That Bella had not let the abandonment ruin her life. It shaped her, of course, but in the end, SHE was able to be a kind and loving mother to HER daughter, unlike Gauri ever was. Gauri’s abandonment did not ruin her chance at being a great mom.

    Thanks so much, Emma, for recommending this book!

  • Love your thoughts on #2. Could not agree with you more.

    Also loved this: “It’s hard to say someone’s purely right or wrong. I think that’s the mark of really good writing.”

    Yes, and yes!


  • Ah I definitely want to get involved for next month! I’ll defs buy the next book!

  • Love your thoughts on this book. Very insightful and slightly different from my own so I enjoyed reading your point of view.


  • Yes, Perezvila. Join in anytime. We’d love to have you. 🙂


  • Always love an honest review, good or bad. 🙂

    Yes, it was very frustrating to watch the family never quite move on from Udayan’s death. When Subhash comes home to see them after Udayan’s death I expected the mother to cling to him, as he was her last remaining child. But she did not. She was too wrapped up in one son’s passing to appreciate the other’s coming.

    What I take away from this is I think it is always easier to focus on the negative things in life and let them color our days while ignoring the good things. If I’m having a hard time with one aspect of my life sometimes I will neglect to appreciate and be kind to others in life because I’m too focused on the negative. Like, I’ll take work stresses out on my husband when really I should be turning to him for strength and encouragement. Obviously this is not the same thing as experiencing a tragic death, liking watching your son die. It doesn’t exactly compare. But, I cannot relate to that as I haven’t experienced that kind of loss.


  • Yes, I agree. I also think that it’s very easy for me to look at Gauri and the choices she made and think, “Wow, what a terrible person. I would never do that.” But I will never face the life that she faced. I haven’t experienced all the terrible things she went through so truthfully I have no idea how they would shape me.


  • 2. It surprised me that Subhash made these two “rebellious” choices initially because it does seem very out of character for him, since we’re told repeatedly that he is known as the obedient son. It gives us some insight into his thought process, I think. I guess in most cases, being obedient and not going against the grain meshes with his idea of what the right thing to do is. But he’d ultimately rather do what he thinks is right or good for him than what his parents think. I think it made me respect him as a character a lot more — if he had just accepted other people’s ideas of what he should do with his life, the book wouldn’t be nearly as interesting! Of course, his marriage to Gauri didn’t end up making him happy. But he seems to be content with his job, he loves Bela and Meghna, and he ends up marrying someone he truly cares for. I was glad to see that things turned out all right for him in the end.

    3. When I read about Subhash’s relationship with Holly, my impression was that maybe he thought he was in love but that he might not be. I think we can all relate to having an early relationship that we expect to turn into something more, because we’re feeling all these unfamiliar feelings for the first time and everything is so new and exciting. It just *seems* important. And it is — that’s a normal part of life, and one that helps us figure out what we do and don’t want in relationships. I think Subhash was probably more lonely than anything, although I do think he cared about Holly. Lahiri also mentions that Subhash feels that his relationship with Holly defies the way his parents would like him to view relationships; I’m sure that held some of the attraction for him.

    4. I agree that I sort of alternately pitied and felt angry with Gauri. It’s hard for us to understand a parent who would turn their back on a child, especially when the parent is the mother. It seems like Gauri never really planned on having a child and resented having to fill the mother role a bit. I sort of felt bad for her when Lahiri talked about how she envied Subhash his ability to just go do his research or his fellowship without ever questioning whether or not he’d be able to because of Bela. Gauri’s definitely recognizing a double standard, and while I’m sure she would have been even less happy in India, I can’t fault her for not being totally satisfied with that life. It’s much more believable than if, say, she went from being very absorbed in politics and philosophy to abandoning all of that and being completely happy with being a stay-at-home mom. That would feel out of character for her.

    The thing that made me a little angry was that she didn’t even try to get in touch with Bela. I get that, after being away for awhile, it might be really hard to do, but it still kind of stressed me out reading about it. The scene at the end where Bela tells Gauri to leave the house was such a heart-wrenching point. You could really feel her anger at being left as a twelve-year-old girl. And I didn’t blame her for that, either. I think that was one of the great things about this book: you can see each character’s motivations, and even if you don’t agree, you can still understand. It’s hard to say someone’s purely right or wrong. I think that’s the mark of really good writing.

  • Ok first of all, loved this book! I think the differences between Subhash and Udayan are what made Subhash seek this very “normal” American life. While Udayan was all about causes and activism, it ultimately caused his death. In his own form of rebellion, Subhash went after a different kind of life for himself which, despite being a safe and quiet existence, was disregarded by his parents. I honestly found it slightly strange that he married Gauri. I understand that it was the only way for her to be able to leave the country but I viewed their marriage forced at best so it wasn’t that shocking when she ultimately left. I think that the forced and awkward nature of their marriage is what caused Gauri’s struggle with motherhood. She was raising Bela without the man she loved and had always planned on having a family with so it probably just all felt wrong. While I’m sure many women would have stayed out of duty or sacrifice, I kind of liked that she left. I think as Bela grew up, the tension would have only gotten worse because something just didn’t fit. That’s not to say I particularly cared for her character. I really thought Subhash was trying to be a good man in difficult circumstances and she just shut him out completely. I don’t think he deserved that treatment and perhaps instead of just selfishly shutting everyone out, including her own daughter, she could have simply left Subhash but stayed in her daughter’s life.
    As a result of her parents’ divorce, Bela seemed to need to find herself apart from her father but I loved that she eventually came back to him when she was pregnant. Her reception of her mother’s visit after so many years came off as cold but not entirely unsurprising. Bela hardly seemed overly emotional or mushy so a heartfelt reunion didn’t seem likely. I liked how she just shut her out because Gauri hardly deserved to be welcomed home.

    Awesome book selection!

  • Dear emma, i haven’t read the book, (i had a massive amount of books for christmas, that i’m just finishing now, leaving husvedt for the end – summer without men – ) so , since the reading club started, i couldt tune to it (i hope i make myself clear… my english is only getting rustier by the day…!)
    i love reading, and my husband doesnt…
    i have a reading pal, my sister, but she lives in spain (i live in uruguay south america)
    sometimes we try to sync our reading, but it doesnt always happen, so i hope i can sync with you girls sometime!!
    best best regards!!!

  • I was glad I started and finished the book so I could write a review honestly. I really did not care for the book. I felt like the family never moved on from the death of one brother and that no one ever gave them self the chance to heal from his death. I know death can definitely tear a family a part, but I felt like this book took a very dramatic take on death.I kept waiting for something to happen and when I finished the book I still could not quite find the purpose for the book. Why was it written, what emotion was it evoking?

    However that being said I can still appreciate the amazing writing of the author. I could visualize every city I was in by the way she described them in her writing. I also felt the strong love for Udayan from each member of the family. Even though it was not my favorite book I am glad I read it because I try not t to judge a book by its cover. Had it not been for this book club I never would have picked this book up on my own because I thought the cover was not inviting. Silly but true.

    THANK YOU A BEAUTIFUL MESS! I love this book club and I look forward to next months read which I am patiently waiting to come in the mail 🙂

  • In terms of Gauri and Bela, I thought a lot about what it takes to make a person feel as they do. As un-motherlike as Guari turned out to be, she had to deal with her husband dying, the fact that he didn’t even want a kid, marrying her brother-in-law, and then carrying around a living example of her past via Bela. While I think she was wrong to abandon her family, I wasn’t all that surprised by her choices. I understand how Bela feels as well. I am a child of some family stress, and I have turned out to be a very independent person who doesn’t rely on family all that much. I really related to Bela in that instance. When I was reading about her traveling all over the place and rarely coming home, I found I could relate. Again, it’s an example of how past circumstances shape individuals (for better or for worse).

  • Glad you enjoyed the book!

    Yes, I agree. Gauri is so easy to hate, right? But she’s also very complicated and at times you feel very sorry for her, especially at the end of the book when Bela basically tells her that Gauri is as dead to her as Udayan. I felt Gauri deserved this, but I also felt bad for her. And then when Bela says that *maybe* she can have a relationship with her grand daughter one day I felt happy for Gauri but also like she didn’t deserve this kindness. She’s a tricky character. You never know quite how you should feel about her.


  • Firstly, I would like to say thank you for picking this book this month. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have been recommending it! Emma, I completely agree with your point on the novel being centred on the characters and the story and this is what made me love the book. Subhash and Udayan are so different from me yet I felt that because Lahiri really focussed on developing her characters I felt connected to them and could empathise with Subhash in particular.
    In response to question 5: Gauri was the character that provoked the biggest response in me. I found her difficult, self centred and extremely selfish but as I read the novel and the full story of what she had done was revealed I was able to emphathise with her more. I think that ultimately she felt trapped by her marriage to Subhash and being a mother. Perhaps its because Udayan did not want children that she feels this way? I do think that she would have felt trapped in her life in India had Udayan not been killed, she seemed to resent the traditional wife role when she is first married.

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