Sunday, August 16, 2009

THE NAMESAKE - Jhumpa Lahiri

Ashoke and Ashima are Indian immigrants in America, trying to balance the life that they left with the life they now lead (with Christmas decorations and trips to the school). The main character is Gogol, their son, who had to be named before being allowed out of the hospital after his birth. Their custom is to have a family name and a "good" name. Gogol's name becomes both, which begins the novel with the tension of something never being completed or perfect - simply in between.

Eventually, Gogol changes his name to Nikolai, believing it easier to live as an American, yet never truly feeling as if he fits in. Later, his father tells him the reason he was named Gogol, which only increases the feeling of alienation and solitude.

As the reader follows Gogol throughout his life - a paragraph that covers a year, twenty pages to cover a date - it is apparent that this story is not really about Gogol at all. It is about finding a way to bring two lives together, two cultures closer, and/or two understandings amended. It is about finding the medium that makes one, if not happy, at least content.

With such depth in the first half of the book, I expected the same from the rest, but the author leaves it to the reader's imagination. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this novel, but I did appreciate the extensive depth of detail.

3.5 out of 5.0 Russian Bears.

1 comment:

moonrat said...

i had mixed (but mostly unsatisfied) feelings about this book when i finished it. i think i was mostly disappointed because i'd loved INTERPRETER OF MALADIES so much. but here's the thing--i read NAMESAKE five years ago now, and the impression is *still* so vivid. i've also thought of the book, and certain themes/moments in it, many, many times since. so i can't help but wonder if maybe this is one of the books where the value is not entirely derived from immediate gratification. i figure if you're still thinking about a book five years later, it was a pretty "good" book, regardless of what you thought at the time.