The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

August 19, 2009 § 4 Comments


{This book was randomly picked from my shelf}

I remember seeing review after review of this book, all of them mounting praises on Lahiri’s beautiful writing. So when by chance, this book jumped out of the shelves (and I mean literally, because I picked the book from off the floor after it jumped out!), I decided to bite the bait, and brought it home, wanting to have a little taste for myself what this was all about.

As it turns out, the story is one that revolves around the life of Gogol, named by his parents after the writer Nikolai Gogol. At first, ‘Gogol’ was only intended to be used by the family as a pet name for the boy, but a series of events causes the name to stick.

The story in itself is not so much about the name, but more about the conflicts and contradictions of culture and life, in the conventional sense of both words. Gogol’s parents are both Bengali, and had come to America to improve their lot. In doing this, Gogol’s parents struggle to keep their cultural roots and identities, while raising their children in a societal environment so completely different from their own.

I think Lahiri does a fantastic job in drawing the reader into the mind of Gogol, riding together with his thought patterns, with the conflicts that he has with himself, his family, his partnerships and with his immediate social circle. Here is a person who is uncertain of himself, who lacks the self-confidence that it takes to be comfortable with himself just as he is, and the feeling is quite apparent through the way Lahiri presents Gogol throughout the book. She gives the reader gentle nudges and indications, never coming off too strongly or forcefully, but rather in a smooth flow, as if it were only natural that we should understand the character that way.

I had quite enjoyed this book. It gave me small glimpses of what Bengali culture is like, and the friction that exists when two contrasting cultures are pitted against each other, each trying to take dominance over the other.

Conclusion: 4/5


§ 4 Responses to The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

  • I have this on my shelf – just picked it up t’other day. Look forward to reading it and exchanging notes soon.

  • Nadia says:

    I love Lahiri! Her writing is amazing!! Interpreter of Maladies is my favorite book by her. I have read The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth and must admit that I prefer her short stories to her novel. Don’t get me wrong, she does a wonderful job with The Namesake and I really got into the book and was just fascinated by the whole idea of how much name really does impact a person’s identity – like how they choose to identify themselves. Gogol obviously did not understand the true meaning of what his name meant to his father who selected this name for him (albeit it was a nickname at first) and how much this name truly represented him as a person. I think its interesting to read about Gogol’s idea of his culture and how much western culture he allows to influence himself and his idea of who he wants to be. Definitely a must read for any Lahiri fan!

  • su says:

    @ Nadia: I’ve read one of the stories in Interpreter of Maladies, and I’ve liked that first short story. I’m thinking I’ll enjoy the book, really. But I’ve not heard of Unaccustomed Earth before. Might go check it out after I’ve finished some of the books on my shelf. =)

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