Wednesday, October 24, 2007

[Book Review] THE NAMESAKE by Jhumpa Lahiri


Andrea Bledsoe reviews THE NAMESAKE by Jhumpa Lahiri (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

In this story, we meet the Ganguli family as they are moving from Calcutta, India to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The story begins with the husband and wife of an arranged marriage. Husband/trained engineer, Ashoke, adapts to the ways of America much more easily than his wife, Ashima, who is reluctant to adapt the new, Western way of life. As time goes on, the couple has a son. Following an Indian tradition, the couple is not allowed to name their own child; instead, they must wait on a letter from Ashima’s grandmother in Calcutta who tells them what to name the baby. Tragedy strikes, and the letter is never sent. To comply with federal regulations that require a name on the birth certificate, the couple names their firstborn Gogol Nikhil after the Russian author whom Ashoke greatly admires. (The entire reasoning for Ashoke’s admiration is told in the novel.) The novel gently shifts from the couple’s plight to the life of their son Gogol. His biggest conflict is his name because there is no other Gogol in this world, he thinks. After years of inner-conflict, he legally changes his name to Nikhil and tries to adopt a new persona as well.

I enjoyed reading this novel because I learned a lot about the traditions of people from a particular part of India. I believe the biggest lesson I learned is the names our parents give us do not define us, but rather, we must learn to define ourselves as people.

Andrea Bledsoe, Poplar-White Station Branch Library

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Thanks for the review, Andrea. This is one of those books that has been on my to-read list forever. Now I must read it!
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