A tale of two continents in an era of political tumult, rendered with devastating depth and clarity by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author.
The narrative proceeds from the simplicity of a fairy tale into a complex novel of moral ambiguity and aftershocks, with revelations that continue through decades and generations until the very last page. It is the story of two brothers in India who are exceptionally close to each other and yet completely different. Older by 15 months, Subhash is cautious and careful, not prone to taking any risks, unlike his impetuous brother Udayan, the younger but the leader in their various escapades. Inseparable in their Calcutta boyhoods, they eventually take very different paths, with Subhash moving to America to pursue his education and an academic career in scientific research, while Udayan becomes increasingly and clandestinely involved in Indian radical militancy. “The chief task of the new party was to organize the peasantry,” writes the novelist (Unaccustomed Earth, 2008, etc.). “The tactic would be guerrilla warfare. The enemy was the Indian state.” The book's straightforward, declarative sentences will ultimately force the characters and the reader to find meaning in the space between them. While Udayan characteristically defies his parents by returning home with a wife he has impulsively courted rather than submitting to an arranged marriage, Subhash waits for his own life to unfold: “He wondered what woman his parents would choose for him. He wondered when it would be. Getting married would mean returning to Calcutta. In that sense he was in no hurry.” Yet crisis returns him to Calcutta, and when he resumes his life in America, he has a pregnant wife and, soon, a daughter. The rest of the novel spans more than four decades in the life of this family, shaped and shaken by the events that have brought them together and tear them apart—“a family of solitaries [that]...had collided and dispersed.”
Though Lahiri has previously earned greater renown for her short stories, this masterful novel deserves to attract an even wider readership.