Saturday, October 9, 2010

29. "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
291 Pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

The Ganguli family story is rich, colorful, and full of intricacies. It is also full of insecurities, heartbreak, and a sense of homelessness. The Ganguli family is always just a little out of place. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli move to the United States from India to start a life together. Ashoke works as a professor while Ashima stays home and raises their two children, Gogol, and Sonia. The majority of the story is focused on Gogol’s life as he struggles to develop a sense of self.

The Namesake flows effortlessly. Transitions between anecdotes and storylines are smooth and nearly flawless. Lahiri’s prose is both simple and elegant. To tell the story, Lahiri relies on sensory descriptions—describing the colors, shapes, smells, tastes, and sounds of every scene. As a result, the characters are exquisitely developed and it was easy for me care about them. As a reader, it is important the characters have depth and are not just empty devices to keep the plot moving. The novel is a genealogy, a Ganguli family history.

I have an uncanny connection to this story. When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I too changed my name like Gogol does. I went through the same court procedure that Gogol did to become Nikhil. My new name was actually my original name—the name my mother wanted to name me when I was born—my “good” name, as the Ganguli family calls it. My mother named me something much simpler after nurses pressured her to saying that people would think the name she originally wanted was strange and difficult to pronounce. The name is strange and difficult to pronounce but it is mine, and I made it legally so just a few years ago.

Deeper questions and themes continue to emerge for me the more I reflect on this novel. I feel that in order to fully appreciate it, it will require more than one reading. This book is worth reading for its masterful portrait of an immigrant family trying to find their identity and place in the world.

4 darts out of 5

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