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The Namesake: A Novel Paperback – Sep 1 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Reprint edition (Sept. 1 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618485228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618485222
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.7 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #9,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

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

One of the most anticipated books of the year, Lahiri's first novel (after 1999's Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies) amounts to less than the sum of its parts. Hopscotching across 25 years, it begins when newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli emigrate to Cambridge, Mass., in 1968, where Ashima immediately gives birth to a son, Gogol-a pet name that becomes permanent when his formal name, traditionally bestowed by the maternal grandmother, is posted in a letter from India, but lost in transit. Ashoke becomes a professor of engineering, but Ashima has a harder time assimilating, unwilling to give up her ties to India. A leap ahead to the '80s finds the teenage Gogol ashamed of his Indian heritage and his unusual name, which he sheds as he moves on to college at Yale and graduate school at Columbia, legally changing it to Nikhil. In one of the most telling chapters, Gogol moves into the home of a family of wealthy Manhattan WASPs and is initiated into a lifestyle idealized in Ralph Lauren ads. Here, Lahiri demonstrates her considerable powers of perception and her ability to convey the discomfort of feeling "other" in a world many would aspire to inhabit. After the death of Gogol's father interrupts this interlude, Lahiri again jumps ahead a year, quickly moving Gogol into marriage, divorce and a role as a dutiful if a bit guilt-stricken son. This small summary demonstrates what is most flawed about the novel: jarring pacing that leaves too many emotional voids between chapters. Lahiri offers a number of beautiful and moving tableaus, but these fail to coalesce into something more than a modest family saga. By any other writer, this would be hailed as a promising debut, but it fails to clear the exceedingly high bar set by her previous work.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Adam Tramantano on July 31 2005
Format: Paperback
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 By Laura Hansen on June 7 2005
Format: Paperback
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 By Sancho Mahle on Feb. 14 2005
Format: Paperback
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.
Also recommended: DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE, FATHERS AND SONS
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 24 2013
Format: Paperback
"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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