The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

18 Jun


 Having recently read Lahiri’s first work, a Pulitzer prize-winning set of short stories entitled Interpreter of Maladies- I was excited to see how her novel The Namesake compared. I found it interesting that even her long-form prose took on a rather episodic pace. Using the protagonist and his love/hate relationship with his unusual name as a focal point, the narrative jumps through the life of Gogol Ganguli, an American born to Bengali parents, growing up in the academic world of New England.

I especially enjoyed Lahiri’s description of Gogol’s various girlfriends, all extremely intelligent and interesting women, each of whom he appreciates and eventually drifts away from in a very careful and deliberate manner. What I love and hate about Lahiri’s characters is that, in many cases, I do not necessarily like them as much as I want to be them.  For example in The Namesake we have, Gogol’s girlfriend, Maxine, who shares her exquisite family life with Gogol- good wine, good food, a house in New York and a summer home in New Hampshire, his wife Moushumi, a doctoral candidate in French Literature who spent the years before she met him living in Paris on a whim, his sister Sonia, who moves to California for college before returning to a successful career as a lawyer and marriage to a successful journalist. Not only their successes, but their failures are alluring. Broken engagements, the stress of demanding jobs, a cultural tension with their parents’ generation if only my problems were as glamorous (not that these issues are necessarily easy they just seem so…grown up).

The Namesake’s main tension seems to be the between generations the younger generation born and raised as Americans and their older parents, voluntarily separated from the culture they grew up surrounded by- living in a world as foreign to them as their native Calcutta is to their children. Having never experienced such a tension myself, growing up surrounded by family, 5 minutes from the house where my mother grew up, I found the exploration of such a cultural experience  within a family very interesting.

Jhumpa Lahiri



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