Namesake had been one of the stories that affected me on multiple levels. I have watched the movie over and over. In reading Jhumpa’s Lowland, I partially fill the one gap — the fact that I never had read the book Namesake. There are several things about Lowland that helped me imagine how Namesake might have been written.
Jhumpa has recurring themes between Namesake and Lowland — story moving back and forth between India (specifically Kolkata, West Bengal) and America (specifically the North East, with occasional references of California), her focus on Bengali traditions and rituals, the labor of love (husband/ wife and parents/ children in Namesake, siblings, couple, father-daughter and later granddaughter in Lowland), teething issues and culture shocks of an Indian getting used to America (from big questions such as “Should I raise my child in America?” to small details like coin-op laundry), the period in which the stories took place (around the 70s — not sure if it was done specifically to target a certain generation of readers or purely for creative reasons), back-dropping the story with political events of the period (certainly more pronounced in Lowland than in Namesake), some returning motifs (such as Ashima waiting for Ashok at the window in Namesake, and Gauri waiting for Udayan in the terrace in Lowland) and so many others I may not have captured here.
But the recurrences end there — Lowlands is certainly more political, filled with more drama, covers a longer period (almost 3.5 generations as opposed to 2 in Namesake), references to many current day topics (premarital/ extramarital/ homosexual relationships, single parents, the role of Internet in our lives — none of which are present in Namesake) and almost tied the story to the specific locales (Namesake could be moved to anywhere in India and anywhere in America, but Lowland pretty much is tied to Kolkata in India and Rhode Island in US)
Ultimately, this novel is almost as compelling as Namesake, however I have to say I have not read the two other books by the same author. In some ways, I thought the author got bolder, in some others clichéd.
Throughout the latter part of the book, I could not help imagining Irfan Khan as the face for Subhash. One part of me imagines/ hopes that this book too will land in the hands of Mira Nair for a movie by the same name, another part of me likes to explore a different director and a entirely different cast — freeing the author from the stereotype of a franchise. It, however, certainly deserves to be a movie.