The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake is a family drama that illuminates the author’s signature themes: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the tangled ties between generations. The novel takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of an arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Ashoke does his best to adapt while his wife pines for home. When their son, Gogol, is born, the task of naming him betrays their hope of respecting old ways in a new world. And we watch as Gogol stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With empathy and insight, Lahiri explores the expectations bestowed on us by our parents and the means by which we come to define who we are.
What has made this book stand out is the quality of the writing (Lahiri won a Pulitzer for her previous book of short stories “The Interpreter of Maladies”), quite unlike most plot driven books we have read. There is a certain voluptuousness to the prose, soemthing about its elliptical style, that draws you into the mental world of each of the characters; and the evocative descriptions of everyday life, the small details of what it is like to see the western world through eastern eyes, resonates deeply.
To some extent, as an outsider to many cultures, I appreciate this level of storytelling — but on a reread, I found that what moved and interested me most was actually the interplay of relationships between generations, between father and son, child and parent (and indeed it is on this aspect that our discussion focused most intensely). And, as something at right angles to our previous reading, it proved a welcome challenge and stimulating topic by virtue of its difference and change of direction.