Nataliya's Reviews > The Namesake

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
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May 30, 12

bookshelves: 2012-reads
Read from February 12 to 15, 2012, read count: 1.5

Jhumpa Lahiri's excellent mastery and command of language are amazing. She writes so effortlessly and enchantingly, in such a captivating manner and yet so matter-of-factly that her writing completely enthralls me. Just look at one of my favorite passages - so simple and beautiful:
"Try to remember it always," he said once Gogol had reached him, leading him slowly back across the breakwater, to where his mother and Sonia stood waiting. "Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go."
No wonder it took me quite a few days after finishing this book to finally surface from under the charm of her language before I was able to figure out what exactly kept nagging me about The Namesake.

You see, The Namesake flows so well that it almost easy to overlook the weak plot development and the unfortunate wasting of so much potential that this story could have had. After finishing it, I had the pleasant 'warm & fuzzy' nostalgic feeling - and yet almost immediately the narrative itself began to fade in my mind, and it became hard to remember what exactly happened over the three hundred pages.

In a nutshell, this is a story about the immigrant experience. Ashoke and Ashima are first-generation immigrants to the US from India, and they do not have the easiest time adjusting to the peculiarities of their new home and its culture. Gogol, the protagonist, is their son who is tasked with living the double life, so to speak - fitting in with the culture of his parents as well as the culture of his family's new country. Simultaneously experiencing two cultures is not always easy, and this is the main theme of this book. And these were the bits of the story that I could relate to in a way, being a first-generation immigrant myself.
"For being a foreigner Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy -- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been an ordinary life, only to discover that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity of from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect."

The Namesake is titled so because Gogol is named after a famous Russian writer Nikolai Gogol (the reason I picked up this book, by the way. Nikolai Gogol is a great writer). Famous namesake or not, young Gogol dislikes his unusual moniker quite a bit. This is a set-up for the conflict, which, unfortunately, I felt was quite underdeveloped.

You see, Lahiri takes a subtle approach without the need to hit the reader over the head with her message. The story she tells is lifelike - calm, subdued, without extra glamour added to it, without every set-up resulting in a major conflict. But I feel that this subtlety quite often crosses the line into the lull of dullness. The story becomes almost like a diary - with much everyday filler, many simple events, many instances of telling and not showing, and not enough payoff - at least for me. Apparently I love quick gratifications, and this book did not deliver those.

I want to reiterate that my issues with this book were very easy (even for me) to initially disregard because of the beauty and near perfection of Lahiri writing style which makes up for many flaws. But ultimately I felt unsatisfied with the story, and therefore I can only give it 3.5 stars. That said, I already bought two other books by Lahiri and will definitely read them. She seems to be a brilliant writer, and maybe will prove to be a better storyteller in her other works.
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Reading Progress

02/13/2012 page 30
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Another wonderful review, Nataliya.


Nataliya Thank you, Stephen. The praise means a lot coming from you - the undisputed king of GR reviews :)


message 3: by Tracy (new)

Tracy I haven't read this but I did see the movie which I liked.


Nataliya I heard the movie was actually better than the book, which is quite rare.


Mary "a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts". It totally is like this. Added to my to-read list!


message 6: by Srinivas (new) - added it

Srinivas nice review Nataliya, me also read this book. Jhumpa Lahiri's writing enthralls me through the stories little monotonous.


Nataliya That's true, I guess. But I wonder if her writing style therefore is more suited for short stories - and I will find out soon, since I already have a hard copy of "Interpreter of Maladies" just waiting to be read.


message 8: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan I had to study 'Interpreter of Maladies' for my 2011 Year 12 exams and although I have not read The Namesake her prose is very suited to short stories. And I have read many, many short stories. And hers are definitely up there in terms of content and command of sincere, yet almost poetic language.


Nataliya Jonathan wrote: "I had to study 'Interpreter of Maladies' for my 2011 Year 12 exams and although I have not read The Namesake her prose is very suited to short stories. And I have read many, many short stories. And..."

Wow, it's really nice to hear. I will definitely move it up on my TBR list then. I knew it won the Pulitzer, but so did some other books that I just could not stomach, so that alone was not enough to make me read it. But now I definitely will, and soon!


message 10: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Prizes rarely qualify a novel for me but they do make it of interest to read. I often want to find out why they received the award. I feel that with her short stories there that I could understand why. Perhaps they did not interest me like some classic short stories have but they are well written and their characterisation is excellent.


Nataliya I started reading "Interpreter of Maladies", and yes - I think her writing style is well suited for short stories, much more so than for a novel.


Nelly Nataliya wrote: "I heard the movie was actually better than the book, which is quite rare."

The movie was great. I read this a long time ago but I remember enjoying it and loving the writing style.


message 13: by Carol. (new)

Carol. Nice quotes. Gave a good feel for the language of the novel.


Nataliya Thanks, Carol. These seemed very representative of the style of the entire novel.


MomToKippy Very nice review. I must have read a different book. Some of the driest draggy prose I have ever read. Special moments like the one quote above are few and far bewtween.


Nataliya MomtoKippy wrote: "Very nice review. I must have read a different book. Some of the driest draggy prose I have ever read. Special moments like the one quote above are few and far bewtween."

Another proof that perception of literature is very subjective.


Janet Just read the story and I enjoy tbis writer very much. It is a true "immigrant" tale. I have also read "The Lowlands" and I was really looking forward to another story by this author.

Enjoyed your review a lot of good points to give me a better framework this is only 3 hours after completion.


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