Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the very few debut works -- and only a handful of collections -- to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the many other awards and honors it received were the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the highest critical praise for its grace, acuity, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America.In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail -- the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase -- that opens whole worlds of emotion. The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named fora Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by whichwe slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. The New York Times has praised Lahiri as "a writer of uncommon elegance and poise." The Namesake is a fine-tuned, intimate, and deeply felt novel of identity.… (more)
The writing is plain, boring, without nuance. There is nothing to savor in the language at all. We're "told" everything, "shown" nothing. Long periods of description - sometimes pages go by without dialogue - tell us
Whereas with most literature, there's something to be savored even in the most tropetastic of plots thanks to subtlety in the language or the author's own take on said conventions, The Namesake is like drinking water instead of aged wine - flavorless and not worth remembering. Reading this novel is the act of running your eyes over the page to take in information without really thinking about the words on the page beyond what's printed because there's no need to. There's nothing to mull over, no images to stick in your mind, no flavors to pleasantly mix in your mouth. What attempts the author tries at subtlety, at symbolism, at an overarching theme, is hamfisted and obvious.
All of this is made worse by the book's mechanical failings: the book is written in the present tense, a style I've never been able to find much success in enjoying, which erects a wall between the reader and the characters and prevents them from getting to know the characters at all. This, along with the lack of depth, really makes the book feel like it's a list of things. It's as if what I read wasn't the book, but rather someone else did and I was reading that person's summary. There exists no gravitas to any of the scenes, no sense of connection deeper than reading the plot summary on Wikipedia. This is the kind of manuscript that would have and should have been drummed out of a creative writing circle.
And as the final insult to injury the whole point of the book, its "lesson", is wrapped up in two pages in the final chapter and treated with just as much subtlety as the author treats the themes, symbols, and characters up to that point: like a brick with the meaning tied to it thrown through your front window. It's like the author gave up on creating an entertaining story by the end and tacked on a cheesy voiceover summary to help the readers who had fallen asleep on the slog catch up.
Avoid, avoid, avoid. This is reading at its worst; this is not Kafka's axe to our internal frozen sea but rather the valium that lures us into a lulling, meaningless sleep of trivial, mealy-mouthed, sugary "warmth".
I'm fond of novels about family, so this satisfied that. It was well written, and I plan to Netflix the movie soon, too. All in all a good book to carry me through the Christmas holiday.
The novel follows the Ganguli family over three decades, beginning when Ashoke and Ashima’s marriage is first arranged in Calcutta. They settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Ashoke is studying engineering, have two children, buy a house and
This is the type of literary fiction I adore. Lahiri writes with such eloquence and grace, letting the reader learn about this family much as she would do when meeting new acquaintances who become friends over decades. Their story tackles issues of the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, differences (and conflicts) between generations, and personal identity.
While their parents find a community of other Bengalis with which to associate and celebrate life’s milestones, their children – son Gogol and his younger sister Sonia – are clearly Americans. And yet, Gogol still struggles with identity. First there is his odd name, then there are the lunches his mother packs for him, and the holidays they celebrate (or do not). While his parents cling to the traditions of their upbringing, Gogol wants only to fit in – to have a Christmas tree, and eat peanut butter, hamburgers and French fries. On trips back to India to see family and friends, Gogol feels lost; he does not clearly understand or speak the language, is unfamiliar with the city, cannot fathom why his family stays with relative after relative rather than getting a hotel room or renting an apartment of their own for the duration. In some respects, he is an immigrant in both countries.
Towards the end of the novel Gogol reflects on his and his parents’ lives: He wonders how his parents had done it, leaving their respective families behind, seeing them so seldom, dwelling unconnected, in a perpetual state of expectation, of longing. … He had spent years maintaining distance from his origins; his parents, in bridging that distance as best they could.
And he comes to a sort of conclusion: These events have formed Gogol, shaped him, determined who he is. They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.
Sarita Choudhury does a marvelous job narrating the audiobook. She sets a good pace that still allows the reader to absorb the complexities of the writing. Still, I am glad that I also have a text copy. Lahiri’s writing is the kind that I want to pore over, to read and read again.
Well, in spite of the fact that I found this novel a bit slow, a bit uninspiring, it certainly produced a fascinating discussion from our book group. We are a group of very varied backgrounds and cultures and everyone seemed to get something different from the book. There
The central character is Gogol, a child of Bengali parents, born and brought up in America, but always torn between the two cultures.
We meet his parents, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli as they are joined in an arranged marriage and travel to America where Ashoke is studying. Ashoke has his studies but Ashima is lost in a strange city until she bears a son, Gogal, and her life changes completely. As the family begins to put down roots in their new country, they also start to meet other Bengali families and their whole existence revolves around these friends from home - a substitute family. No wonder then, that as Gogol grows, his immersion in American life produces a conflict with his life with his parents.
When he leaves home to study he still returns regularly, but as he begins to date American women, the culture gap widens and he seems to fall onto the American side. Unfortunately he's not a very strong character and he allows himself to be blown about by the people he meets, rather than asserting his own identity.
The book covers his first thirty years and leaves itself open to a possible sequel??
From what I've read about the author, the experiences of Gogol very much mirror her own - the child of immigrant parents, born in London but brought up in US. She understands the struggle that children of immigrant families have in establishing their identity. The themes were very similar to her book of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, but The Namesake had the additional element of the issue of the name Gogol, which should have been just a family, or nick-name, but became an embarassment to Gogol as he grew. The change of his name by deed-pole to Nikhil, just as he leaves home to join university and assume a new identity was very poinant - and representative of the change many youngsters undergo at this age, irrespective of their origins.
I am so glad that I was able to discuss this book, it brought out so much more from the novel.
Highly recommended as a book group read, less enthusiastically for personal consumption.
The story then transitioned into Gogol’s life – and his discomfort with his name. Before college, he changed it to Nikhil, attempting to shed the Indian and family ties that he felt bound him. We follow Gogol through college and architectural school, dead-end relationships and a cultural restlessness. It wasn’t until the unexpected death of his father that Gogol began to feel comfortable with his Indian heritage – though too late to share with his father.
The Namesake spoke in a whisper but delivered strong messages about ancestry, family and culture. I believe Lahiri is a short story writer at heart, and her chapters throughout The Namesake could have stood alone. I found the ending to be endearing, leaving me with hopefulness for Gogol and his family.
Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri should definitely put The Namesake on their shelves. I look forward to reading her latest short story collection, The Unaccustomed Earth very soon. She is one of our most talented storytellers.
The flow of the language is natural and rich in the
And though the main character, Gogol “Nikhil” Ganguli is the centre of the narrative, the specific perspectives and sufferings of the family that surround him in their own immigrant experience, found in his father, Ashoke, his mother, Ashima, and his sister, Sonali, speak the truth about the different trials and responses to transition.
Lahiri speaks to the meaning of being ethnic, marginal, liminal, and the complexity of defining yourself and home. There is a tension and dichotomy between the previous country and the new, and the expectations one not only has of himself, but the expectations of those around him, and how these definitions stretch and become blurred to become something new entirely.
The gut of the book is about the naming of things and people; how one identifies himself, namely, Gogol. How and why and what he was named, a central theme in the novel.
It’s a story about coming into one’s own understanding of his relationship to his culture (old and new), his family, his home, himself, and his name.
Surprisingly, the film is as beautiful and rich as the novel it is based on.
I finished reading this book tonight, a novel about an Indian couple who immigrates to the United States, and their children who are born in the U.S., especially their son,
This is a book where nothing particularly exciting happens. There is no central conflict, or rather, it is a subtle one. Gogol hates the insulated world of his immigrant parents, and longs to be like other American children. As he grows older, he realizes that his parents’ world is also his, even though he experiences it differently. It is not all that different from any child’s experience, though. Don’t we all wish to escape from our parents, only to discover that we are of their world no matter how we try to differentiate ourselves?
This is the kind of book that fills me with the desire to write. I want to communicate these deep emotions the way she does—exactly the way she does, without being self-consciously important, just illustrating essential truths through ordinary situations. I want to create characters that are so real you are half convinced that you have really met them, or at least someone just like them. Hey, maybe Lahiri knows your friend from work, and based her character on him! I wish I could convey deep feelings so subtly that the reader is not even aware of why the tears come to her eyes.
I picked up this book because I had read a story by Lahiri in The Best Non-Required Reading of 2005, and I knew she was amazing. I was not at all disappointed. I highly recommend this book!
This book, like her first, discusses the
It is the story of Gogol Ganguli, named after Nikolai Gogol, an author whom I was unfamiliar with, though I'd heard the name. The strangest aspect of the Namesake was how familiar it all seemed. Never have I read a story with a main character so near my age living in the same city I live in. I could see where he got ice cream in Harvard Square, and I could imagine his apartment in New York. I shared his experience of feeling out of context when dating someone in the millionaire class, of experiencing the old money of New England, the summer vacation home existence. I could share his 14-yr old dissatisfaction with his own name, the tiresome repetition and explanations necessary at every introduction. Here is a description of a Bengali-American architect with a Russian name, and yet I see myself in so many pages of this book.
I did enjoy this book, but I was disappointed that a) the writing was such a simplified style (I have a preference for flowery prose) b)it was in some cases annoyingly predictable, and c) that there was no overarching meaning to the plot. When I say predictable it was in this sense: occasionally a big event happened, like a death in the family, and they way Lahiri sets it up you know exactly what's going to happen. There is no surprise, no suspense, when you know three pages ahead of where you're supposed to "get it". And as for the plot, the book was a simple biography. Nothing in Gogol's life meant particularly more than anything else, and the only thing holding it together was the artifice of the story behind Gogol's name.
I wish that it had ended differently. I wish that the message I got from reading this book wasn't "we are all isolated and in this immigrant culture will never find one who is well-matched in background." It reminds me of my greatest weakness, my loneliness, and it gave me no hope for better. Gogol ends the story alone, with an immediate family scattered across the globe, and in a job that is merely satisfying. Mustn't there be more in this life?
This book is written in a style that I personally call "The Airplane Seatmate from
There is little character development. The elder Gangulis seem to be generic Bengali emigrants; we have individual details about them, but they don't have individual personalities. I don't think that I would have thought that anyone was acting out of character because I never had a clear idea of what they were like.
Since I knew that I was going to read this, I didn't read the flaps or anything else about it. The first 50-60 pages were quite interesting as I learned about Bengali customs. I assumed, from these opening pages, that the Gangulis were going back to India when Ashoke finished his degree. An exemplar of the problem with the book is that I cannot figure out why they remained in the USA. Oh, we know why Ashoke went to America, but now that he has had his adventure and he doesn't seem to love the USA as his mentor Ghosh loved Britain, why does he stay?
I don't mean to take a "love or leave it" stance: there would be a lot of stateless persons if that was the rule. It is simply that the Gangulis seem to miss India terribly, and there is no explanation for their remaining in the USA. Other members of the group threw out various suggestions, but the issue isn't the top ten reasons why people move to the USA, but rather, why did this particular family stay here? People may live regretfully in exile, forced from, or prevented from returning to their country by famine, war, political turmoil, poverty, etc., but these don't apply to the Gangulis. Other group members suggested that Lahiri wanted to show how people are torn between cultures. I'm sure they are, but "torn" implies a pull from at least two sides: what is the pull of the USA for the Gangulis? Are we supposed to just assume that of course, everybody wants to live in the USA?
The book uses a great many flashbacks, which stifles what little narrative drive there is. Very emotional scenes tend to be avoided in the present and discussed only in the past tense in a rather flat way.
If Gogol/Nikhil's constant obsessing over his name is supposed to indicate divided loyalties, it would have been better to have used a Bengali name versus a European name; say, Nikhil/Nicholas. Otherwise, he needs to get psychological help - in a culture where people commonly have two names, why is this such a problem for him? For that matter, other Americans often have two or more names - what's the big deal? I can understand that one may be wistful at losing all the people who used a family nickname, but this seems to be the most important issue in his life. Perhaps if we understood what this means to him besides vaguely that it is a dilemma, I'd be more sympathetic. His intercultural conflicts also seem minor and manageable: it's not like his parents are on his case to accept an arranged marriage. Altogether, a tedious character. Nikhil/Gogol's dilemma might have had some resonance if it had been portrayed as the struggle within ourselves, between conflicting wants and needs, that everyone experiences. One can feel like a stranger in a strange land in the place that one was born.
Ashima was mildly interesting, and Sonia might have been very interesting, but she was a minor character.
I've read much better books about the immigrant experience, both fiction and nonfiction: Eric Liu's The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker; Isaac Asimov's In Memory Still Green, where he dicusses the shock to his Russian parents of suddenly being illiterate; Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong; the dilemmas of Pakhistani-Britain Sahlah Malik in Elizabeth Georges' Deception on His Mind; the movie Bend It Like Beckham (Widescreen Edition). I recommend this only to people with a particular interest in Bengalis. Or, read the first few chapters, learn some interesting things abut Bengalis, and forget the rest of the book. Or just read a book about Bengal: Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History (Cities of the Imagination) by Krishna Dutta or Bengal: Sites and Sights by Pratapaditya Pal & Enamul Haque both sound promising.
Revolving around the Ganguli family -- the parents are natives of India but settle in Boston -- this novel begins with the arrival of the Gangulis' newborn baby boy, Gogol. While we know early on how this unusual name is chosen, Gogol does not until much later. He is embarrassed by it, and even changes it when he starts college. Basically a story about a struggle of self-identity (as seen when he is in a relationship with a wealthy white woman, and then later when he marries an Indian woman with self-identity struggles of her own), but also a story of how the Ganguli family could be like many other American families.
My description is not doing justice to this wonderfully written book. I would try to pick a quote, but would end up quoting the entire book. So, read it if you haven't already.
I enjoyed learning about Bengali culture, and even though that was the heritage of this family, the book had more universal themes. In this country, most of us left a country, a home, a family behind, at least somewhere back in the generations. I think of my family, adopting a new language, celebrating new holidays, cooking new food. Each generation adapting more to the general American culture, until now, 3rd generation on my father's side and many more generations on my mother's side, those original languages, recipes, traditions, manners of dress, and so forth, have all put been lost. All I have now is a recipe for German Potato Salad from my great grandmother that will never taste the same as when she made it, and to make matters worse, I never even particularily cared for it.
This is a wonderful book that though provides the insight of several chapters in one child of an immigrant's life, has themes universal to the American experience.