The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

Jul 07

The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

I have read two books over the past few months by Jhumpa Lahiri, the former being her Pulitzer Prize winning Interpreter of Maladies, and the latter her sophomore effort, The Namesake.  I loved the Interpreter of Maladies, as it was a succinct collection of  nine short stories told from an Indian/American perspective but all involving the universal themes of love, family, and loss.  I enjoyed this quite a bit due to the fact that it is fairly difficult to find a decent short story these days.  In The Namesake, Ms. Lahiri focuses on the Ganguli clan.  The parents come to America from India and have children born on American soil.  Their eldest son, Gogol, spends his life struggling with having an odd name and trying to navigate the world as an American from a family steeped in deep Indian traditions.  I enjoyed learning about Indian culture through a fictional story.  One fascinating tradition:  an older family member will name the children born into a family.  In Gogol’s case, the task is left up to a Great Grandmother.  She sends the names from Calcutta to the United States.  Of course, the letter never arrives…..and then she dies.  Bengalis will apparently wait years to name a child; they wait for the perfect name to present itself.  During the interim, a “pet name” will get a guy by.  This plan is kiboshed in the USA…a name is strongly encouraged to be in place on the birth certificate before leaving the hospital.  Enter, Gogol…..the name of Ashoke’s (Gogol’s father) favorite author.   Gogol is at times heart wrenching, at times a narcissist.   I felt like I knew the core family intimately by the end of this read. It also made me think about the importance and the origin of my own name. High marks for the short stories, fair marks for The Namesake.

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