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The Namesake: A Novel Paperback – Sep 1 2004
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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).Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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
Most recent customer reviews
Not exactly an uplifting book... but felt the struggle of an immigrant trying to fit in to a different culture.Published 1 month ago by Jody B
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 on Jan. 18 2014 by Sharonora
I have just finished the novel "the Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri!! It is a wonderful read, written with such raw emotion. Read morePublished on Jan. 9 2014 by Janet Begin
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
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 on July 10 2013 by Cheryl Wilson
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 on June 8 2013 by Jaclyn Horscroft
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 on May 26 2013 by Jean Coughlan