#08 ~ The Namesake

February 22, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Parenting Dilemmas, Reading, Religion | 5 Comments
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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

It took me a long while to read this book. Like the Life of Pi, it is heady. Many of the other books I’ve read recently have been so as well. Comparitively, the Janet Evanovich novels are fun and soap opera-ish. I much preferred to read those. In fact, I read the second and third installments of the Stephanie Plum novels in the middle of The Namesake. I can’t say if my hesitance to read this book was because of timing or because the book didn’t hold my interest. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to tell.

The Namesake is the story of an American born Indian. Due to a letter from India that was lost in the mail, his parents named him Gogol, after one of the father’s favorite Russian writers. Over time, Gogol grows up and begins to despise his name. He has it legally changed. This change and his attempts to free himself from his parent’s culture are futile. He cannot be happy for long immersed in his American-Indian life or in a more fully American life.

There is a great deal of detail about his parents early marriage and about three of Gogol’s romances. The ending, by comparison, was glossed over and encapsulated in his mother’s final Christmas Eve party for the Indian-Bangladeshi family she created for herself in the United States. It seems as though Gogol’s mother and sister finally come to terms with their lives and how their cultural identity helps to form their journeys. Gogol finds a book of his namesake’s writing in his room. The book was given to him by his father. He rescues it from being donated and begins to read the book. Does he begin his journey toward acceptance of his life and what he cannot control? That is the impression given. I’m mostly glad that I’ve not been invited to take that journey with him.


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  1. Does this book have a lot of pictures? I like books with pictures. Mark & Trista give me books that have tons of pictures, and those are the best kind to read. You also gave me a nice picture book and I read the whole thing. Words usually ruin the effect of picture books. Words slow me down.

    If I read too many pictureless books, then when I die my life will have only been words. Pictures are worth a thousand of those, I hear, and I like that kind of efficiency. The ancient Egyptians wrote with pictures, and with the all the time they saved they built those gigantic pyramids.

    So does this book have any pictures? Why read it otherwise?

  2. I think that there are some picture books we might enjoy reading together…

  3. TMI! TMI!!

  4. The family wasn’t Bangladeshi – it was Indian. They’re from Calcutta in West Bengal, a state in India which is geographically adjacent to Bangladesh, and they speak Bengali, which would explain why you thought they were Bangladeshi.

    I guess I read the book from a different perspective, being an immigrant myself. My experience is very different from this family’s, but I can see a lot of the people I know in them.

  5. Sapna, I think that you are right about that. Being born in this country, I don’t have experience with the culture clash in the way that Gogol did. Also, although I’m 36, I hadn’t really had to choose what I wanted for my life versus disappoint my parents before. Since reading this book, I have. I think if I were to reread this book, I would have a different experience. It wouldn’t be the same as having the unique experience of being an Indian American (sorry about the Bangladeshi mishap! I’ve learned something); but I think you can always find a way to connect with a book of this caliber at some point in your life.

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