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The Namesake: A Novel [Paperback]

Jhumpa Lahiri
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 2004 Edition 001
Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the very few debut works -- and only a handful of collections -- to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the many other awards and honors it received were the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the highest critical praise for its grace, acuity, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America. In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail -- the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase -- that opens whole worlds of emotion.
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. The New York Times has praised Lahiri as "a writer of uncommon elegance and poise." The Namesake is a fine-tuned, intimate, and deeply felt novel of identity.

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From Amazon

Any talk of The Namesake--Jhumpa Lahiri's follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, Interpreter of Maladies--must begin with a name: Gogol Ganguli. Born to an Indian academic and his wife, Gogol is afflicted from birth with a name that is neither Indian nor American nor even really a first name at all. He is given the name by his father who, before he came to America to study at MIT, was almost killed in a train wreck in India. Rescuers caught sight of the volume of Nikolai Gogol's short stories that he held, and hauled him from the train. Ashoke gives his American-born son the name as a kind of placeholder, and the awkward thing sticks.

Awkwardness is Gogol's birthright. He grows up a bright American boy, goes to Yale, has pretty girlfriends, becomes a successful architect, but like many second-generation immigrants, he can never quite find his place in the world. There's a lovely section where he dates a wealthy, cultured young Manhattan woman who lives with her charming parents. They fold Gogol into their easy, elegant life, but even here he can find no peace and he breaks off the relationship. His mother finally sets him up on a blind date with the daughter of a Bengali friend, and Gogol thinks he has found his match. Moushumi, like Gogol, is at odds with the Indian-American world she inhabits. She has found, however, a circuitous escape: "At Brown, her rebellion had been academic ... she'd pursued a double major in French. Immersing herself in a third language, a third culture, had been her refuge--she approached French, unlike things American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, ore expectation of any kind." Lahiri documents these quiet rebellions and random longings with great sensitivity. There's no cleverness or showing-off in The Namesake, just beautifully confident storytelling. Gogol's story is neither comedy nor tragedy; it's simply that ordinary, hard-to-get-down-on-paper commodity: real life. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This recording features a spare, elegant reading by Choudhury of a story about identity, cultural assimilation and the burden of the past. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli move from Calcutta to Cambridge, Mass., where they have a son who ends up being tagged with the strange name of Gogol. How he gets the name serves as an important theme as he deals with it and his heritage. The fact that Choudhury herself is half Indian aids her narration, as characters with that country's accent abound here. But much more important to this project is her lovely, mellifluous voice and even tone, which complements the text's own lush imagery. Perhaps owing to her English pronunciation, she is also adept at putting a polished spin on the voices of the upper-crust Manhattanites with whom Gogol becomes intertwined for a while. With such an excellent narrator, the recording neither needs nor includes much in the way of musical embellishment. The book itself makes several jumps in time and occasionally seems disjointed, but this production is a treat for the sheer combination of Lahiri's striking, often enchanting descriptions and Choudhury's graceful rendering of them.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Literary Greatness July 31 2005
Lahiri is an extremely skilled writer and I look forward to reading what is to come from her impending lifetime of literary greatness. Put aside the fact that she won the Pulitzer for her debut short story collection, for a first novel, The Namesake is literary greatness. Try reading the first novel of Faulkner or Updike and getting past the first ten pages without throwing the book out of the window. If she keeps writing prolifically (I heard in an interview that it took two years for her to write this book) she may eventually win another Pulitzer and possibly the Nobel Prize in Literature.
There are many things that Lahiri did in this book that really impressed me, but since I'm giving the book four stars, I will focus on four:
1. her treatment of time
2. her usage of physical surroundings
3. the tense and perspective of the narrative
4. the universal and the particular
1. She is a master at shifting time. The book spans the life of Gogol from before his birth to about age thirty. It's very interesting to see how these characters change over the years. It was a relief for me to read a book that wasn't so episode oriented. This book "tells" a lot. Only a brilliant writer can get away with that and still manage to "show" you something. The time shifting is really what impressed me the most; the book has a great sense of movement. Lahiri gives us a moment by moment narrative and then sifts through months of events in a mere paragraph. She moves through years in just sentences.
2. The physical surroundings represent important ideas as well as represent what the characters are going through. Trains are a recurring location where significant things happen (Ashoke's accident; Gogol meets his first girlfriend).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exotic and Insightful June 7 2005
What's in a name? Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli understand the importance of naming. As Bengalis, they rarely use each other's "good names," the formal first name that appears on birth certificates, diplomas, and marriage licenses. Instead, they use the pet name bestowed upon each Bengali shortly after birth, the one that is used exclusively by family and friends (which may be a real name or a silly, onomatopoeic nickname). The good name is too momentous, too significant to be used, or chosen, lightly. So, when Ashoke and Ashima, newly transplanted to the United States, learn that they are expecting a child, they ask the family matriarch to select a name for their baby and send it to them in a letter. Nobody else will know the chosen name until afterward.
Months pass, and the letter fails to appear; it seems it's been lost in the mail. Initially, the Gangulis aren't too worried, because Bengalis often aren't officially named for months or even years; but the American system demands a name immediately. Meanwhile, the great-grandmother has fallen severely ill, and is in no state to reveal baby names. Running out of time, Ashoke names his son "Gogol," after his favorite Russian writer, a name that has immense personal significance to him. But to young Gogol, the name is a burden, a disfigurement, an ugly reminder of the many differences between him and his peers. As he grows up, Gogol embarks on a bitter love-hate relationship with his name; he loathes it, he denies it, he tries to escape it. Only when Gogol has made peace with his ethnic background and his family's traditions can he learn to accept his identity.
Lahiri, known for her critically adored short-story collection The Interpreter of Maladies, makes her debut as a novelist with this work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conflict in the soul Feb. 14 2005
I really enjoyed The Namesake, just as much as I enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies. 'The Namesake' is a very entertaining novel that sheds light on the experiences of first generation Americans, whose parents are immigrants. It is one of the very few novels that have dealt with this subject and it certainly came out at its best in doing so.
It has got all the ingredients of conflict in a person's soul, conflict in a family and conflict in a community trying to stick together in another land. In this novel, the conflict in culture between Eastern vs. Western, The Old World vs. The New World, Father vs. Son is brilliant exposed. I could easily relate to the story as someone who is caught in the same situation himself. I was certainly disappointed by certain parts of the story, but on the whole it was marvelous. I was impressed by the positive reaction to it.
The characters are marvelously depicted and made to interact with so much fluidity, tenderness and love. The setting involving India and the USA is genuine. Brilliantly told, Namesake vividly brought out a clash of two cultures and of a boy realizing his father's life. In the end, we come to understand the enormous prize immigrants pay as they abandon their ethnic or national identities in their quests to be accepted in their new countries.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By John Kwok TOP 100 REVIEWER
"The Namesake", Jhumpa Lahiri's debut novel is a riveting, often fascinating, saga of an Indo-American family, the Gangulis, as seen through the eyes of son Gogol Ganguli. Lahiri takes readers on a compelling exploration of the family as it seeks to find its identity as Americans while not forsaking the family's roots in Calcutta, Bengal, India. Named for his father's favorite Russian author, Gogol undergoes a life-long journey of personal discovery and personal identity, finally deciding late in his adolescence to change his name legally from Gogol Ganguli to Nikhil Ganguli. Lahiri's deceptively simple, quite poetic, prose tells a most captivating tale of an immigrant family's successful rise to capture some of the American Dream, focusing on Gogol's joys and sorrows, trials and tribulations, as if his is an Everyman saga of a Massachusetts-born son of immigrants struggling to retain his family's culture and traditions while fitting in with American life. Critically and popularly acclaimed when it was published originally in 2003, "The Namesake" remains a notable addition to Lahiri's award-winning oeuvre.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read about the multicultural experience.
A great read from a measured skillful writer.
Published 29 days ago by Serendipity
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great condition, no surprises.
Published 1 month ago by Harpaul Cheema
3.0 out of 5 stars Immigration
Unfortunately I have read several of this type of book how people from other countries try to fit into our society and ways..not easy..but a story that does not stay with you..
Published 7 months ago by Sharonora
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read!!!
I have just finished the novel "the Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri!! It is a wonderful read, written with such raw emotion. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Janet Begin
3.0 out of 5 stars very homie book
It wasn't 100% to my liking but it was a comfortable read I still read the whole book with a warm feeling
The characters interacted very naturally
Published 10 months ago by Anna Maria Leupin
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read
A well written story of a mans life journey and how he came to terms with himself and his relationship with his parents and his heritage. It's worth the read.
Published 13 months ago by Cheryl Wilson
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing spectacular
This was a decent read. Nothing all that exciting happens but not a bad book. I wouldn't not tell someone to read it.
Published 14 months ago by Jaclyn Horscroft
5.0 out of 5 stars a really good story
This book was so engaging it made me think of my parents and when we emigrated and how different ethnic groups try to hold onto their old familiar ways.
Published 15 months ago by Jean Coughlan
5.0 out of 5 stars what's in a name?
have you ever thought much about your name? who chose it and why? what does it mean? how does it connect you to a particular culture, ethnicity, history? Read more
Published 15 months ago by salsa bandit
4.0 out of 5 stars Angst driven novel irritating but worth the effort.
There are times when we all want to reinvent ourselves. This is the story of a young man born to Indian parents who have moved from their home country to Boston so that his father... Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2008 by Len
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