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The Namesake: A Novel Hardcover – September 16, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (September 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395927218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395927212
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (869 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,011,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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Customer Reviews

Very well written and beautiful description, it definitely is a great book.
Elizabeth Thottan
Compelling read giving us insight into Indian culture and struggles of immigrants to assimilate into new cultures.
LIP
I ended up really liking this book, but it didn't move fast enough for me and at times felt like a chore.
Melani J. Whisler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

161 of 171 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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135 of 153 people found the following review helpful By Richard Nelson on 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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90 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on 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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92 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on 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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