The namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Paper Book, 2003

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2003.

Description

A young man born of Indian parents in America struggles with issues of identity from his teens to his thirties.

Media reviews

Jhumpa Lahiri's quietly dazzling new novel, ''The Namesake,'' is that rare thing: an intimate, closely observed family portrait that effortlessly and discreetly unfolds to disclose a capacious social vision.

User reviews

LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
I'll start by saying that I adored Lahiri's collection of short stories, and I had high hopes for the novel, but I didn't enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. The themes and characters all seemed far too close to what she'd explored (repeatedly, I have to admit) in her stories, and I found myself thinking that this novel might have worked much better as a novella, or even a short story. There just wasn't enough here to last the length, even as beautiful as the writing was. I'd recommend her stories, and if you're interested in more of the same at more length, perhaps this novel, but it didn't live up to the standard that her first collection set for it, and came off as a bit boring by the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member cyafer
Terrible, absolutely unequivocally terrible. I'd give it zero stars if I could.

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 things in excruciatingly unnecessary detail (such as the food the characters eat - the middle portion of the book is little more than a grocery list of upscale yuppie Manhattanite food) while important events in life, such as deaths, are glossed over as if they didn't happen at all. We're never really given any insight into the characters aside from the five word summary the author hamfistedly gives us when they're introduced and the story itself (second-generation immigrants distancing themselves from their family's culture only to find themselves drawn back to it) is so blase and well-worn that the characters go through their entirely predictable motions until the novel ends. There's nothing here that hasn't been done, and better, before. There's nothing here to get attached to, nothing to grow fond of.

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".
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LibraryThing member innermusic
Nice book, but I was expecting more. More from a Pulitzer winner, that is. Left me with a bleak melancholia about life and about families. Nothing really HAPPENS. It's a well-written account of people, families, the circle of life, relationships. Not enough depth to match the amount of detail. There are a few powerful events which affected me emotionally, but there weren't enough of them. The book could have had more substance - more weight.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jthierer
Really easy to read, but I found myself not really connecting with any of the characters. I didn't really identify or empathize with their dilemmas. Gogol/Nikhil was so passive most of the time that I found it hard to really care about his life.
LibraryThing member piefuchs
A good, but not a great book. The namesake tells the story of a boy born in the US to Indian parents and the constant cultural conflict as he comes of age. Lahiri is an excellent writer, but as I find of many short story writers, she was unable to sustain the plot (or indeed the character) in an adequate way for the whole book. The cultural conflict portions were excellent.… (more)
LibraryThing member cyclopaedantic
I liked -- not loved -- The Namesake. To me, the most compelling character was not Gogol, who wound up annoying me to no end, but Ashima, his mother. The book, I think, winds up being more about her than Gogol, who is actually just a static character. Ashima is the only person in the book who grows, who changes.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member neringros
Loved everything about this book, even the reference to Gogol - one of my favorite writers.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Digital audiobook performed by Sarita Choudhury.

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 live their lives: Indians with American children.

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.
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LibraryThing member mattypsaidso
Jhumpa Lahiri writes some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. There's a stunning simplicity and evocative aspect of her work that really affects me. I'm not usually one to get wrapped up in the stylistics of a novel, the specific language, but there's just something wonderful and moving to me. I can see why not everyone would like this novel, and I can't deny that there's something superior in Lahiri's amazing short fiction, but I still found the story of Gogol Ganguli and his family to be beautifully wrought - especially the relationship between Ashima and Ashoke.… (more)
LibraryThing member CatieN
Ashoke and Ashima marry without ever having said a word to each other and then immediately move from India to the United States, Boston to be exact, where Ashoke if finishing his education. It is quite the culture shock for both of them but especially Ashima. The story revolves around their first child, Gogol. How he comes by his name is the basis of the book. In Bengalese tradition, the grandmother names the grandchildren, and Ashoke and Ashima await the letter containing their baby's name in vain. It never arrives. So they give their son the name Gogol as a nickname thinking they will get his formal name in the mail any day. When Gogol starts kindergarten, they try to change his name, but he isn't having any of that, so Gogol he remains. There is a touching story behind the name Gogol which becomes important at the end of the book. An excellent book with a strong theme of love of family but also arranged marriages versus the "American way" of living together and choosing your own spouse and also the inner strength it takes to move to a foreign country where you don't know the language or the customs and yet build a good life. Enjoyed this book immensely and fell in love with all four members of the Ganguli family.… (more)
LibraryThing member TigerLMS
Gogol is the son of two immigrants from India. His parents want to keep the traditions of India as they work to become Americans. Yet Gogol is embarrassed by his parent's pining for home, and embarks on his own journey, one that takes him through a confusing maze of American desires and divided loyalties between family and self. Gogol is not an Indian name; it is Russian, and it is the story of how his name came to be that finally steers Gogol-- if not in the right direction, at least toward a port he can call home. This is a lush, brilliant work that is an essential read.… (more)
LibraryThing member ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez
The narrative is so clear and written with ease that I easily became engrossed in the story of the Ganguli family as it spanned throughout the years, each page, a catalyst to further reading and emotional investment in the book’s characters.

The flow of the language is natural and rich in the truth it reveals about the immigrant experience, and though specifically about coming from India and making a life in America, Lahiri writes with authentic detail and wisdom about the described immigrant experience that it not only crosses borders, but speaks truthfully and universally.

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.
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LibraryThing member these_fragments
read like an over-long short story
LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
Why did it take me this long to read The Namesake, even though I adored Jhumpa Lahiri's two short story collections ("Interpreter of Maladies" and "Unaccustomed Earth")? Because I knew that if I read The Namesake, I'd have nothing new to read by Lahiri. Upon the news that she has a new novel "The Lowland" coming out soon (September 2013), I immediately started reading The Namesake and was completely engrossed.

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.
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LibraryThing member sapper
Glimpses of the kind of writing that make her short stories so readable, but ulitimately insubstantial.
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Excellent writing, fascinating family tale, switching viewpoints periodically to give us glimpses of the "foreigner" experience from various perspectives. The protagonist, Gogol, is nearly always "The Other" as most of his social interactions seem to be related either to his parents' Bengali community contacts, or his current female companion's friends and family. He never really accepts his own name, and on the threshold of adulthood he changes it, thereby drawing a distinct line between two worlds...the one he grew up in, populated by people who know him as "Gogol", and the other by people who met him after he became "Nikhil". Only after several failed romances, and the departure of his parents does he begin to explore who Gogol really might be. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrstreme
A tale of family relationships and the immigrant experience, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri explored the lives of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, who settled in Boston from India, and their children, Gogol and Sonia. The first part of the book expressed Ashima’s difficulties with settling into her new home. While expecting their first child, the couple waited for a letter from a grandmother, which would detail the names of their child. The letter never arrived, forcing Ashoke and Ashima to choose a name for their son, settling on “Gogol,” who was a Russian writer who was influential on Ashoke as a young man.

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.
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LibraryThing member DubaiReader
Brilliant book discussion!

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 we several 'Oh yes!' moments for me, where I realised that I had missed the implications of something and then the penny dropped.

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.
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LibraryThing member sussabmax
I wish that I could be Jhumpa Lahiri. Well, not be her, exactly, but certainly I wish I could have her talent with words.

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, Gogol. It was an absolutely fascinating book, and I am in awe of how Lahiri manages to make her characters so familiar and so foreign at the same time. I confess, part of the reason I was so fascinated by Gogol’s love life is the fact that I was half in love with an Indian man I know recently—a man who ended up going home and entering into an arranged marriage with an Indian girl. But still, that doesn’t explain how moving this book was.



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!
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LibraryThing member Kayla-Marie
I loved how important Russian literature was in this book. I had an obsession with Russian literature in high school and The Namesake started bringing it all back to me. I really enjoyed following Gogol around during his first 30 years of life. He is one of the most interesting and enjoyable characters I've ever encountered in my reading. I added this book to my favorites shelf, which hadn't had an addition in years.… (more)
LibraryThing member Berly
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lariri. She won the Pulitzer for her short story collection, but I have to say this was disappointing. The story follows Gogol, whose parents are immigrants from India, through childhood into his thirties. Gogol is not happy with his name; does not understand his parents; doesn't feel like he fits in America; fails in his love life. Unhappiness and dissatisfaction abound. There wasn't much dialogue and everything else is written from a third person point of view, which did not help me feel emotionally attached to the main character. A disappointing book.… (more)
LibraryThing member brooklynbabe199
I attended a special advance screening of the movie The Namesake, and while waiting in line, the promoters handed out free copies of the novel. I enjoyed the movie (although a little slow in parts) so I decided to give the book a try. The result was that rare case when I liked a movie more than the book it was based upon. Frankly, I'm frustratingly surprised this book is so popular. The writing was choppy and simple—I would even go so far as to say juvenile—and the story is uninspiring. The central concept revolved around a young man's struggle to accept his name, "Gogol." I found this theme, and Lahari's frequent return to it (ad nauseam), wholly uninteresting. And I don’t think the depiction of Indian immigrants in America (Gogol’s parents) was very convincing. They’re from Calcutta, but fear New York City because it’s too big and noisy? Whatever. My advice: See the movie!… (more)
LibraryThing member myfanwy
The Namesake is a current book making its way around the book club circuit. Jhumpa is a young Indian immigrant who won the Pulitzer on her first collection of stories, The Interpreter of Maladies, so there was a lot of expectation on her first novel.

This book, like her first, discusses the experience of an Indian immigrant to the United States. I must say, it felt painfully autobiographical. Her style is very plain. She focuses on objects in her descriptions. A scene of importance will be described as it is etched in the characters mind, complete with the color of the couch and the receipts found in a pocket and the brand of razor by the sink. But in its simplicity it does manage to convey the experience of falling in love, and out of it.

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?
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LibraryThing member stipe168
yawn. ok so i relate with being an american-born "indian", but the characters, writing, and everything else were all boring. i kept waiting for something to happen, and guess what! nothing ever did! should be renamed the sexcapades of gogol.
LibraryThing member readaholic12
Evocative, thoughtful depiction of cultural and generational differences.

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