Jhumpa Lahiri had toured Presidency University armed with notepad and camera during her 2011 Calcutta visit. Now we know she was researching for The Lowland
How many times will a Booker-nominated novel by a Pulitzer-winning author take off from Deshapran Sashmal Road?
Jhumpa Lahiri’s fourth book The Lowland opens on the road outside The Tollygunge Club and tells the tale of two brothers as they grow up outside its elitist walls in the 1950s and ’60s. And as critics and readers from all over the English-reading world pore over Subhash and Udayan’s adventures in the city’s lanes and misadventures with ideology and duty, Calcutta can sit back and enjoy its moment under the spotlight.
Come Saturday, there’ll be more reason for Calcutta and its bookstores to rejoice — The Lowland, published in India by Random House India and priced Rs 499, will make it to the top of Nielsen’s India bestseller list.
“The Lowland is doing very well. Since its release on September 7, we’ve sold 150 copies. And we have huge expectations from the book so we’ve stocked up some 750 copies. If it wins the Man Booker Prize on October 15, we might even have to place a re-order,” said a spokesperson for Starmark.
Sidharth Pansari of Crossword too said the book was doing very well. “We have already placed a repeat order.”
Oxford Bookstore on Park Street is selling “at least five to six copies a day.”
Lahiri, a Bengali who was born in England and grew up in Rhode Island, US, has written three highly acclaimed books about non-resident Indians, particularly Bengalis, though she is loathe to call her work “immigrant fiction”.
“Writers have always tended to write about the worlds they come from…. If certain books are to be termed immigrant fiction, what do we call the rest? Native fiction? Puritan fiction?” she had said during an interview with The New York Times recently.
But in her fourth book, the city that she had only given her readers in sepia-tinted nostalgia, is very much in the present, from Garia to New Market, Esplanade to College Street. And the city’s readers couldn’t be happier.
“I was waiting for this book ever since I read an extract in The New Yorker in June, where Calcutta featured prominently, and bought it the day it released,” said Salt Lake resident Srirupa Sen.
For others, the 1970s setting is an added hook. “I had been waiting to read The Lowland but I had to give it to my father-in-law first, who seemed very eager to read it given the time the story is set in,” said media professional Sohini Ray.
Not just senior citizens, the young lot wants to know about the Naxalite years too. “The turbulent ’70s at Presidency has been an era of enigma and wonder for generations of Presidencians. Also, I am keen to see how Jhumpa Lahiri has evolved since her last novel, The Namesake,” said Kush Koshy Sengupta, a student of English at Presidency.
The publishers are naturally bullish on The Lowland.
“A new book by Jhumpa Lahiri always has an eager audience and The Lowland is no exception... and debuting at No. 1, it has got off to a strong start. With its short-listing for the Booker and being named as a finalist for the National Book Award in the US, we expect sales to continue strongly,” said Caroline Newbury, VP, marketing and publicity, Random House India.