Brilliant book discussion!
Well, in spite of the fact that I found this novel a bit slow, a bit uninspiring, it certainly produced a fascinating discussion from our book group. We are a group of very varied backgrounds and cultures and everyone seemed to get something different from the book. There we several 'Oh yes!' moments for me, where I realised that I had missed the implications of something and then the penny dropped.
The central character is Gogol, a child of Bengali parents, born and brought up in America, but always torn between the two cultures.
We meet his parents, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli as they are joined in an arranged marriage and travel to America where Ashoke is studying. Ashoke has his studies but Ashima is lost in a strange city until she bears a son, Gogal, and her life changes completely. As the family begins to put down roots in their new country, they also start to meet other Bengali families and their whole existence revolves around these friends from home - a substitute family. No wonder then, that as Gogol grows, his immersion in American life produces a conflict with his life with his parents.
When he leaves home to study he still returns regularly, but as he begins to date American women, the culture gap widens and he seems to fall onto the American side. Unfortunately he's not a very strong character and he allows himself to be blown about by the people he meets, rather than asserting his own identity.
The book covers his first thirty years and leaves itself open to a possible sequel??
From what I've read about the author, the experiences of Gogol very much mirror her own - the child of immigrant parents, born in London but brought up in US. She understands the struggle that children of immigrant families have in establishing their identity. The themes were very similar to her book of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, but The Namesake had the additional element of the issue of the name Gogol, which should have been just a family, or nick-name, but became an embarassment to Gogol as he grew. The change of his name by deed-pole to Nikhil, just as he leaves home to join university and assume a new identity was very poinant - and representative of the change many youngsters undergo at this age, irrespective of their origins.
I am so glad that I was able to discuss this book, it brought out so much more from the novel.
Highly recommended as a book group read, less enthusiastically for personal consumption.