Jhumpa Lahiri

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

James McBride won the National Book Award for fiction Wednesday for The Good Lord Bird, about a young slave in the 1850s who meets and travels with abolitionist John Brown.

The annual awards, presented by the National Book Foundation, honor American authors for works published over the past year in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature.

Geography is destiny in Jhumpa Lahiri's new novel, The Lowland. Her title refers to a marshy stretch of land between two ponds in a Calcutta neighborhood where two very close brothers grow up. In monsoon season, the marsh floods and the ponds combine; in summer, the floodwater evaporates. You don't need your decoder ring to figure out that the two ponds symbolize the two brothers — at times separate; at other times inseparable. But there's still more meaning lurking in this rich landscape.

Jhumpa Lahiri's new book has been nominated for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. It's an ambitious undertaking, spanning decades and continents as the author tells the story of three generations of a family in Calcutta and Rhode Island.

The story opens with brothers Udayan and Subhash sneaking into an exclusive golf club near their home in Calcutta. Udayan, the younger brother, is bold and daring; Subhash tags along, timid but unwilling to let his brother take such a risk alone.

Earlier this month, Jhumpa Lahiri rejected the idea of immigrant fiction. "I don't know what to make of the term," she told The New York Times. "All American fiction could be classified as immigrant fiction."

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

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The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.