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The Namesake: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Jhumpa Lahiri
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (960 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 for a 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 which we 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.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Any talk of The Namesake--Jhumpa Lahiri's follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, Interpreter of Maladies--must begin with a name: Gogol Ganguli. Born to an Indian academic and his wife, Gogol is afflicted from birth with a name that is neither Indian nor American nor even really a first name at all. He is given the name by his father who, before he came to America to study at MIT, was almost killed in a train wreck in India. Rescuers caught sight of the volume of Nikolai Gogol's short stories that he held, and hauled him from the train. Ashoke gives his American-born son the name as a kind of placeholder, and the awkward thing sticks.

Awkwardness is Gogol's birthright. He grows up a bright American boy, goes to Yale, has pretty girlfriends, becomes a successful architect, but like many second-generation immigrants, he can never quite find his place in the world. There's a lovely section where he dates a wealthy, cultured young Manhattan woman who lives with her charming parents. They fold Gogol into their easy, elegant life, but even here he can find no peace and he breaks off the relationship. His mother finally sets him up on a blind date with the daughter of a Bengali friend, and Gogol thinks he has found his match. Moushumi, like Gogol, is at odds with the Indian-American world she inhabits. She has found, however, a circuitous escape: "At Brown, her rebellion had been academic ... she'd pursued a double major in French. Immersing herself in a third language, a third culture, had been her refuge--she approached French, unlike things American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, or expectation of any kind." Lahiri documents these quiet rebellions and random longings with great sensitivity. There's no cleverness or showing-off in The Namesake, just beautifully confident storytelling. Gogol's story is neither comedy nor tragedy; it's simply that ordinary, hard-to-get-down-on-paper commodity: real life. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

One of the most anticipated books of the year, Lahiri's first novel (after 1999's Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies) amounts to less than the sum of its parts. Hopscotching across 25 years, it begins when newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli emigrate to Cambridge, Mass., in 1968, where Ashima immediately gives birth to a son, Gogol-a pet name that becomes permanent when his formal name, traditionally bestowed by the maternal grandmother, is posted in a letter from India, but lost in transit. Ashoke becomes a professor of engineering, but Ashima has a harder time assimilating, unwilling to give up her ties to India. A leap ahead to the '80s finds the teenage Gogol ashamed of his Indian heritage and his unusual name, which he sheds as he moves on to college at Yale and graduate school at Columbia, legally changing it to Nikhil. In one of the most telling chapters, Gogol moves into the home of a family of wealthy Manhattan WASPs and is initiated into a lifestyle idealized in Ralph Lauren ads. Here, Lahiri demonstrates her considerable powers of perception and her ability to convey the discomfort of feeling "other" in a world many would aspire to inhabit. After the death of Gogol's father interrupts this interlude, Lahiri again jumps ahead a year, quickly moving Gogol into marriage, divorce and a role as a dutiful if a bit guilt-stricken son. This small summary demonstrates what is most flawed about the novel: jarring pacing that leaves too many emotional voids between chapters. Lahiri offers a number of beautiful and moving tableaus, but these fail to coalesce into something more than a modest family saga. By any other writer, this would be hailed as a promising debut, but it fails to clear the exceedingly high bar set by her previous work.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 613 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0618485228
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003KGAUUQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
173 of 184 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine novel about a transplanted Bengali family November 3, 2003
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In THE NAMESAKE, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel, the characters are always hungry: for a place to call home, for family, for love, and, of course, for food. Ashima, in an arranged marriage to Ashoke Ganguli, misses her native India as she sets up house far from her family in Massachusetts, a land of bleak winters that her family will never know, much less understand. Making Bengali food out of American substitutes, she searches desperately for the comfort of her childhood. Time gradually pulls her away from the past, and she learns the ways of America, becomes friends with other transplanted Bengalis, and begins a family. A quiet affection develops between Ashima and Ashoke as they raise their two children, oddly-named Gogol and his sister Sonia. The novel lovingly follows the family through decades of heartache and celebrations.
Gogol is the novel's center and its primary perspective, the namesake of the title. Although he does not know it until much later in life, Gogol is named after the Russian author not because, as he is told at first, Gogol is his father's favorite writer but because a copy of Gogol's short stories saved Ashoke's life after a train wreck. To Ashoke, the name of Gogol signifies a beginning, survival, "everything that followed" the horrific night spent in the rubble. This idea is the heart of the novel; as immigrants the Gangulis must look forward to what lies ahead instead of what is past. In America, Ashima and Ashoke are reborn, just as their children must find their own paths.
Rich with detail and infused with affection, this novel has a lyricism that brings the Gangulis' world to life without exoticism. The description of food - Indian, French, American - is so exactly decadent that one should not read this book hungry.
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138 of 156 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Novel Idea August 11, 2004
Format:Paperback
You can't love a book as much as I loved Interpreter of Maladies and not seek out anything else by the author. Lahiri's new book, published in 2003 and now available in paperback, is a novel rather than a collection of short stories, and I can't help but note that despite my preference for the novel form, Lahiri was in the right line of work before. The Namesake has moments of breathtaking beauty, and I enjoyed it--very much, in fact. Indeed, it feels like one of Lahiri's short stories about an Indian immigrant expanded to fill a novel, or even like a series of short stories about the same people, but disjointed. Rather than following a plot, Lahiri follows a life; this is a brave and admirable choice that causes the novel to meander just as a life does. My fear is that some readers will find it unexciting; Lahiri's stories each pack a punch within pages, but this is a slow burn. Still, well worth the time; you'll care deeply about "the namesake" by the time you're through.
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94 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars young Bengali discovers melting pot may be a bit too hot September 12, 2004
Format:Paperback
Some two hundred thirty years ago, an immigrant attempted to answer the vexing question his French parents had posed him: "What is an American?" His answer, famous for its clarity, ignited a debate that continues today. Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur's thesis was that the American is a "new man," one who eagerly discarded the cultural traditions of his former home and just as passionately adopted the ethos of his newly adopted land, the United States. The American, de Crevecoeur, discards his former cultural heritage and completely "melts" into his new American charcter. It is the perils, costs and anguish of assimilation that Bengali author Jhumpa Lahiri explores in her brilliant debut novel, "The Namesake." Her exquisitely rendered protagonist, Gogol Ganguli, becomes the archtype for every immigrant who has wrestled with issues of conflicted identity, cultural confusion and humbling marginality.

Through Lahiri's wise and sympathetic characterization, Gogol begins his odyssey towards Americanization even before he is born. His Bengali immigrant parents, whose marriage was arranged by their adherence to cultural tradition, cannot provide a proper name for their American-born son. Their patient but unrewarded anticipation of a "good" name for their son selected by a Calcutta matriarch, results in Gogol inadvertently acquiring a "pet" name chosen by his father. This duality, between Gogol's ethnic roots and his American birthright, perpetually torments him.

Befuddlement, confusion and anger over unresolved identity occurs with dispiriting regularity across the span of Gogol's young life. Even at a traditional Bengali party celebrating his six-month-old status, the infant Gogol, "forced to confront his destiny," cannot and "with lower lip trembling," begins to cry.
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90 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent debut novel September 26, 2003
Format:Hardcover
First I must say that I waited very impatiently for Lahiri to write a follow up to 'Interpreter of Maldies', her Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories. That is one of my favorite books, so I was eager to see what she would do next. That level of expectation usually only serves to hurt a book, but 'The Namesake' is up to the task. Lahiri masterfully weaves a compelling story that doesn't fall into the trap that most short story writers get into when they write a full novel (inevitably most seem drawn out and boring, as if the writer is simply trying to fill the pages). The beautiful prose draws you into the story of Gogol, the son of immigrants from India named after the Russian author. 'The Namesake' is about the gap between Gogol and his family -- he born into America and wanting to fit in with our society, his parents unable to let go of the land they knew and the customs they grew up with. Gogol spends his life distancing himself from them and their ways, somewhat desperately trying to assimilate himself to the American way of life. It is a very relatable, very real story that feels close to the reader's heart and is true to life. This is all thanks to Jhumpa Lahiri, an author with a unique understanding of complex human emotions and an incredible ability to convey them to the reader. 'The Namesake' made the wait from her last book worth the while, and leaves you impatient for her next book all over again.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I read this wonderful book about ten years ago
I read this wonderful book about ten years ago, and I still think about it - the writing, the story and the characters were that powerful. Read more
Published 20 hours ago by N. P. Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars An opened door into the Indian culture
Amazingly detailed account of a family and cultural adaptation to the American life style, without the loss of their beliefs.
Published 2 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars I really liked this book
I really liked this book. It is an easy read and really held my interest. I learned a few things about Indian culture but didn't find it to be too overwhelming. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Clint Gerdes
5.0 out of 5 stars Great novel!
I did enjoy this novel from the very beginning! It's a well written novel that draws you into experiencing another culture and how they adapt to living in America. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Rosty
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
The evolution of the characters, to grow with a family that begins in a much different way than mine did. Read more
Published 6 days ago by monsta
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine book
Was an okay book. Had to read it for school book report. Nothing really happens in the book. The book can get kinda boring at times
Published 10 days ago by Jim
4.0 out of 5 stars The Namesake
Beautifully written story about the life and culture of a Indian family living in America.
Published 10 days ago by Ms. 90
3.0 out of 5 stars Names, and an Overview of Identity
Enjoyed it, in the main. It provided an instructive view into two cultures, and the people caught between them. Oh yeah, and the power of naming.
Published 14 days ago by Shari A. Mann
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book. Had to read it for my College ...
Great book. Had to read it for my College Writing Seminar, but I was very pleased. The book was extremely relatable, and the movie was great to watch and compare to the novel.
Published 20 days ago by Kathleen Ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, fabulous, couldn't put it down
Life is a complicated journey, more so for those of us who grew up in one culture at home and another outside. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Claudine Hawthorne
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The Namesake
Hear, hear! Interpreter of Maladies was far superior to The Namesake. I think the tension was not great enough to sustain a novelInterpreter of Maladies (Paperback) Read More
Nov 17, 2009 by Mary K. Tabeling |  See all 3 posts
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