Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Namesake

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Jhumpa Lahiri, the book is one of the most engrossing books I've read recently. I read the book from start to finish at a speed that I've not read at for quite a while now...I think the last novel that captured my attention in a similar fashion was Doris Lessing's "The Sweetest Dream."

In "The Namesake" Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection of short stories "Interpreter of Maladies" an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. I do find the depiction of the diasporic Indians a bit stereotypical but I guess when you are writing about that community you can't help but lean towards stereotypes!

"The Namesake" takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

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