Wednesday, July 14, 2010

#21 The Namesake

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is about a boy born in America to East Indian parents. The story begins with his pregnant mother, Ashima,  reminiscing about how she met her husband, an arranged marriage, and their building of a life in America away from all friends, family or familiarity. Soon, she goes into labor and a son is born. Following tradition, they allow Ashima's grandmother to choose a name for their son and they wait for a letter bearing that name which never comes. Suddenly unable to leave the hospital without filling out appropriate paperwork, the task of naming the boy unexpectedly falls to his parents.The father, Ashoke, finally settles on the name Gogol from his favorite author Nikolai Gogol but there is another story behind the name, it invokes memories of a tragic event that occurred to his father many years before.

The story follows Gogol through most of his life as he tries to reconcile the differences in customs often rejecting his parent's tradition in favor of the American ones of his friends. He grows increasingly resentful of his odd name, especially the fact that it is neither American nor Bengali. The resentment only increases when, as a teenager, he realizes that Gogol is not even the author's first name but his last. He realizes that he may be the only Gogol in the whole world and it causes him to feel alone. Eventually he legally changes his name to Nikhil and tries desperately to distance himself from being 'Gogol'.

This book was great at dealing with issues that I think we all feel at one point while growing up. Feeling alone in the world, unsure of ourselves, desperate to fit in, and dealing with parent's who 'just don't get it'. I think we all feel that way at some point in adolescence though, like Gogol, we all felt as though no one in the world could possibly understand. The author is able to convey those feelings perfectly and often dredged up my own memories.

Eventually Gogol is able to come to terms with his heritage and his name through the wisdom and maturity that only comes with age and experience. All in all, I found it to be a very beautiful story of growing up and finding peace within yourself. It was an wonderfully fun read, the words flow easily and it's easy to transport yourself into the story. When she talks of India, I could almost feel the sticky heat and smell the food. (Warning: Don't read hungry, there is a lot of food talk and I was constantly putting it down to go grab a snack.) I would highly recommend this book and am looking forward to watching the movie tonight.


Becky (Page Turners) said...

Sounds really interesting. Reminds me a bit of Monica Ali's Brick Lane

Jump_Raven said...

Sounds like a nice cross cultural coming of age story.

Considering the name, are you going to read Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol next since it's on your list?

Reading Rachel said...

Ah! I forgot that one was one there. I should but I have 3 from the library I need to finish first before they have to go back. Maybe I'll pick that one up while I'm there.

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