Recently I joined the group http://bookblogs.ning.com/group/multiculturalbooksreviewers at thehttp://bookblogs.ning.com/. At the “Multicultural Book Reviewers” group everybody posts their reviews of authors who proudly convey their heritage in their books.
So, I thought I would do a review of “Jhumpa Lahiri”‘s “The Namesake”.
THE NAMESAKE follows the Ganguli family through its journey from Calcutta to Cambridge to the Boston suburbs. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli arrive in America at the end of the 1960s, shortly after their arranged marriage in Calcutta, in order for Ashoke to finish his engineering degree at MIT. Ashoke is forward-thinking, ready to enter into American culture if not fully at least with an open mind. His young bride is far less malleable. Isolated, desperately missing her large family back in India, she will never be at peace with this new world.
Soon after they arrive in Cambridge, their first child is born, a boy. According to Indian custom, the child will be given two names: an official name, to be bestowed by the great-grandmother, and a pet name to be used only by family. But the letter from India with the child’s official name never arrives, and so the baby’s parents decide on a pet name to use for the time being. Ashoke chooses a name that has particular significance for him: on a train trip back in India several years earlier, he had been reading a short story collection by one of his most beloved Russian writers, Nikolai Gogol, when the train derailed in the middle of the night, killing almost all the sleeping passengers onboard. Ashoke had stayed awake to read his Gogol, and he believes the book saved his life. His child will be known, then, as Gogol.
“Lahiri brings her enormous powers of description to her first novel, infusing scene after scene with profound emotional depth. Condensed and controlled, THE NAMESAKE covers three decades and crosses continents, all the while zooming in at very precise moments on telling detail, sensory richness, and fine nuances of character.” as mentioned in http://www.randomhouse.com/kvpa/jhumpalahiri/
Awkwardness is Gogol’s birthright. He grows up a bright American boy, goes to Yale, has pretty girlfriends, becomes a successful architect, but like many second-generation immigrants, he can never quite find his place in the world. There’s a lovely section where he dates a wealthy, cultured young Manhattan woman who lives with her charming parents. They fold Gogol into their easy, elegant life, but even here he can find no peace and he breaks off the relationship. His mother finally sets him up on a blind date with the daughter of a Bengali friend, and Gogol thinks he has found his match. Moushumi, like Gogol, is at odds with the Indian-American world she inhabits. She has found, however, a circuitous escape:
“At Brown, her rebellion had been academic … she’d pursued a double major in French. Immersing herself in a third language, a third culture, had been her refuge–she approached French, unlike things American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, or expectation of any kind.”
The author documents these quiet rebellions and random longings with great sensitivity. The writing is immaculate and an Indian family’s bumpy journey in America is going to move you.
I like this book particularly because Iam an Indian and Bengali and from Kolkata(Calcutta), living in the U.S. A. for the past 9yrs with my husband and 2sons. I see myself in Ashima, I know to some extent what she felt and then I look at Gogol and his sister and I try to see my two sons when they will grow up….. I know this is a novel and my real life is different but the innermost essence of “The Namesake” is connected to me and my family’s life……..