Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Namesake

How do you feel about your name? Do you love it, hate it, tolerate it? Have you all but replaced it with a nickname? Jhumpa Lahiri's first novel, The Namesake, follows the life/lives of the Ganguli family. It begins with Ashoke and Ashima, new to America from Calcutta, pregnant with their firstborn, trying to find a balance between assimilation and preserving their Indian rituals and traditions.

Enter their son, Gogol, named after Nikolai Gogol, the Russian author Ashoke is fond of. The story then focuses on him, his childhood as an American-born Indian, and his embarrassment of his name, his parents, and his heritage. We follow Gogol through high school, into college, and as he moves to New York to work. We learn of the girls he loves, the girls he likes, and the girls who in turn love and don't love him back.

This story wasn't particularly fast-paced, but I found myself spending hours immersed in the lives of the Gangulis. Lahiri has a way with words and with creating real characters who I felt invested in. I teared up several times while reading, but I laughed some too. This story was intimate, elegantly written, and on the whole, a beautiful tale of how our names define us and we define our names.

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