Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

Title: The Namesake
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Country: America
Year: 2003
Rating: A-
Pages: 291 pgs.

First sentence: On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl.

The novel begins in 1968 with the birth of a boy named Gogol Ganguli. His mother, having recently emigrated to America after an arranged marriage to Ashoke, "is terrified to raise a child in a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare." (p.6) Yet Gogol is born, and comes by his name through a series of random occurences. Despite the randomness of his naming, it is a name that holds personal meaning for his father Ashoke.

The family, soon to include a daughter Sonia, slowly find their way, balancing the old and the new. The Namesake is not only a coming-of-age story; it is a family portrait of a Bengali couple raising their children in a new culture. Lahiri adeptly captures the disparities between parents who view their country of origin as home, but raise American children who abandon their ethnic identity and squirm in discomfort on each visit 'home' to Calcutta. Although the story centers around Gogol and his search to become reconciled with his identity, we follow each family member as they search out their own path. I would definitely recommend this story of individual growth amidst family (and cultural) relationships.

13 comments:

Laura said...

I loved this book, too! Have you seen the film? (I haven't). I'm planning to read Interpreter of Maladies in the next couple of weeks.

Literary Feline said...

I enjoyed this book too. Like Laura, I haven't yet seen the movie, but I hope to one day. Great review!

Nyssaneala said...

@laura - I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm looking forward to when it comes out on video!

@literary feline - Thanks!

Lotus Reads said...

Wonderful review, nyssaneala! I absolutely loved the book and the movie rocks too! I saw the movie last year at the Toronto International Film Festival and there wasn't a dry eye in the audience. Mira Nair did an absolutely admirable job of bringing "The Namesake" to the screen although she did tweak the story in several places...one big difference is that while the book centers around Gogol, the movie centers around his mother, Ashima. I hope you get to see it soon.

Nyssaneala said...

@lotus - I would love to go to the Toronto film festival one day! The movie is in our Netflix queue, whenever it finally comes out on DVD. Glad to hear you liked it!

Joy said...

Haven't read this one, but heard it's good just like you expressed. It's on my TBR list. :)

Ann Darnton said...

Coincidently I was talking about this book with a friend over lunch today. It's very good, though not, I think, as good as her short story collection, 'Interpreter of Maladies'. I'm not really a short story reader, but this is one of those instances where the effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Callista said...

Sounds interesting, good review. I've added a link to your review to the Book to Movie Challenge listing.

I'm also hosting 2 (and possible a third) other challenges starting January.

Framed said...

I enjoyed remembering this book through your review. Reading about the whole naming process and other cultural differences was very rewarding.

Nyssaneala said...

@joy - too many books, too little time, right? :)

@ann - Thanks for visiting! I'm not big on short stories, either, which is why I haven't read Interpreter of Maladies yet. I definitely think I will check it out now.

@callista - the queen of challenges! I don't know if I'll be participating in very many more challenges for awhile, not until a few months after the baby is born. I think her arrival will be 'challenge' enough - but the best kind!

Nyssaneala said...

@framed - Thanks for visiting! So many different cultures have different traditions to name their children (we're currently starting to plan the Jewish naming ceremony for our daughter), it was an interesting part of the book.

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