Apr 27, 08
In the early 1960s, Ashoke Ganguli nearly died in his native India. The only thing that saved him, odd as it may sound, was a collection of short stories by Russian author Nikolai Gogol. Now, several years later and after having moved to the United States with his new wife, Ashima, Ashoke finds himself in a dilemma. In order to leave the hospital with their newborn son, they must provide administrators with a name for the baby. However, in keeping with Indian tradition, Ashoke and Ashima are waiting for a name to be chosen by her mother who is still back in India. When the name doesn't arrive, the two new parents quickly choose the name Gogol, in tribute to one of Ashoke's favorite authors. However, the story of the accident that nearly killed him is kept as one of his innermost secrets.
The rest of the book follows the family through three decades of life in America. Gogol and his sister, Sonia, try their best to fit in and be all things "American" while their parents attempt to balance aspects of their new life while not forgetting their old ways. From this point on, the focus of the story is Gogol as he struggles with acceptance of what he considers a stupid name and how his self-centered perception of how it affects his life.
I apologize for the horrible description I gave of what is easily one of the most beautifully told stories I have ever read. I actually read this book two months ago and have struggled to find words adequate enough to describe this novel. When they never came to me, I decided I just needed to get word about this book out, regardless of whether or not my review can do it justice.
In the most understandable terms possible, Jhumpa Lahiri has crafted one of the most wonderfully written and layered stories of family life in the United States as possible. From the fear and hope felt by Ashoke and Ashima as they move to a strange land to the cynicism displayed by Gogol as he navigates through life. It's a story full of desire, despair, love, and pain and I highly recommend you come along for the ride.