Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri's new novel The Lowland, shortlisted for Britain's Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the US National Book Award, is a story of fate and will, exile and return, of the price of idealism and of a love that can last long past death.
Set in Kolkata and Rhode Island in the US, The Lowland is about the lives of brothers Subhash and Udayan, their choices and their fate.
Born just 15 months apart, they are inseparable and are often mistaken for each other in the Kolkata neighbourhood where they grow up.
"In spite of their differences, one was perpetually confused with the other, so that when either name was called both were conditioned to answer. And sometimes it was difficult to know who had answered, given that their voices were nearly indistinguishable. Sitting over the chessboard they were mirror images: one leg bent, the other splayed out, chins propped on their knees," Lahiri writes.
"They were similar enough in build to draw from a single pile of clothes. Their complexions, a light coppery compound derived from their parents, were identical. Their double-jointed fingers, the sharp cut of their features, the wavy texture of their hair," the book, published by Random House India, says.
But they are opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. It is the 1960s, and the charismatic and impulsive Udayan finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement.
It had begun in college, Lahiri says.
"There was always talk during labs, during meals at the canteen, about the country and all that was wrong with it. The stagnant economy, the deterioration of living standards. The latest rice shortage, pushing tens of thousands to the verge of starvation.
"He (Udayan) got to know some members of the Marxist student wing. They'd talked of the example of Vietnam. He started cutting classes, wandering with them through Calcutta. Visiting factories, visiting slums," the book says about Udayan's attraction to the movement.
"In 1966 they'd organised a strike at Presidency, over the maladministration of hostels. They'd demanded that the superintendent resign. They'd risked expulsion. They'd shut down all of Calcutta University, for 69 days.
"He'd gone to the countryside to further indoctrinate himself. He’d been instructed to move from place to place, to walk 15 miles each day before sundown. He met tenant farmers living in desperation. People who resorted to eating what they fed their animals. Children who ate one meal a day."
Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother's political passion.
Since childhood Subhash has been cautious.
"His mother had to run after him. He kept her company, watching as she cooked at the coal stove, or embroidered saris and blouse pieces commissioned by a ladies' tailor in the neighbourhood. He helped his father plant the dahlias that he grew in pots in the courtyard. The blooming orbs, violet and orange and pink, were sometimes tipped with white. Their vibrancy was shocking against the drab courtyard walls," Lahiri says in her description of Subhash.
The two brothers were admitted to two of the city's best colleges.
"Udayan would go to Presidency to study physics. Subhash, for chemical engineering, to Jadavpur. They were the only boys in their neighbourhood, the only students from their unremarkable high school, to have done so well." Subhash, however, leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.
It was there that he learnt about the death of his brother – killed by police for committing acts of terror.
When Subhash learns what has happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he goes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind – including those seared in the heart of his brother's wife.
He ultimately marries his brother's pregnant wife Gauri and brings her to the US. But he fails to win her heart and Gauri abandons him and Udayan's daughter Bela to pursue an academic career.