The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
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.
This book has been on my TBR list for what feels like forever. In an effort to not start another series (and thus buy more books so I could finish it), I finally picked this up.
Maybe because it was finally turning cold when I started this book and I read it in bed, to describe this book I keep returning to the sensation of being wrapped in a blanket. Picking up the book night after night was a comfort. It’s a good, steady story, almost melancholic in tone, but it doesn’t mess with your feelings. You can depend on it to give you a reliable reading experience.
The Namesake is a superbly written book that I (as a white, non first-generation American) feel really digs into the immigrant experience and the often conflicted sense of identity. From what I know via my own experience and the stories I’ve heard from friends about their families, if any one book could possibly encapsulate the Indian-American experience, this is it.
While I really liked this book, I don’t know if I would put it as top read for this year. Though to be honest looking back over what I read this year, I feel like I read a lot of things I really, really enjoyed, but not sure if I would put them on my list of favorite things I’ve read, ever. Just one of those years I guess.
The Namesake would be a fantastic choice for a bookclub, so if you’re looking for a great read that will probably be a crowd-pleaser, this is it! Also, a move was made based on the book (which I haven’t seen) so you could even screen sections of it at the bookclub as well.