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The Namesake: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2004
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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 --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
This recording features a spare, elegant reading by Choudhury of a story about identity, cultural assimilation and the burden of the past. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli move from Calcutta to Cambridge, Mass., where they have a son who ends up being tagged with the strange name of Gogol. How he gets the name serves as an important theme as he deals with it and his heritage. The fact that Choudhury herself is half Indian aids her narration, as characters with that country's accent abound here. But much more important to this project is her lovely, mellifluous voice and even tone, which complements the text's own lush imagery. Perhaps owing to her English pronunciation, she is also adept at putting a polished spin on the voices of the upper-crust Manhattanites with whom Gogol becomes intertwined for a while. With such an excellent narrator, the recording neither needs nor includes much in the way of musical embellishment. The book itself makes several jumps in time and occasionally seems disjointed, but this production is a treat for the sheer combination of Lahiri's striking, often enchanting descriptions and Choudhury's graceful rendering of them.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Sometimes when I read novels with various points of view I find it a bit trite and not really useful. In this book I enjoyed getting the background on the main character, Gogol, through the story of his parents. The novel builds on the lives of the young Indian parents, goes on to describe their American-born children's lives through Gogol's eyes, and continues to follow him through adulthood and loss. Perhaps one point of view jump to his girlfriend wasn't really necessary, but I didn't hate it.
The novel reads like a nuanced family history, although it is mostly about Gogol, the Indian immigrant culture that shapes him, and his rebellion against all that. Anyone who has lived a certain number of years--whether they are children of immigrants or not--can empathize with the feelings of resistance against our parents that eventually, with time, morph into longing for the things that remind us of our parents.
I find Lahiri's writing clear and clean; flawless. She doesn't use a lot of trickery, and the simplicity is comforting and pleasurable. Reading this novel was like going on a smooth boat ride on placid waters. This is not to suggest it was boring--just that I never felt irritated or troubled by the writing.
I was not dazzled, swept away or otherwise impressed, though I did learn a little more about Bengali people and more on why they have a "family name" and a formal name.
I feel like I'm sounding like sour grapes because I write genre fiction, but I'm a reader too and I know literature when I read it. This wasn't it.