Annalisa's Reviews > The Namesake

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
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's review
Apr 27, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobook, movies, literary
Read in May, 2009

The prose in this book is beautiful. What also added to the novel was listening to the Indian-accented dialogue on the audio form. Normally I don't like female readers and where the main character is male it seems a train wreck waiting to happen. But where Gogle is so introspective, her quiet take on a quiet read was the perfect match.

For me, this book was more than anything about finding out who we are and where we belong in life. When you throw culture displacement into the mix, you find that you don't really belong anywhere. Ashima and Ashoke are Indian-born living in New England and trying to hold onto the culture and language that defines them and ties them back to the families they so rarely see. But for as complex as their inability to find roots is, the problem is compounded in the next generation. Gogle looks Indian and can speak (but not write) his native tongue, but his culture is true-blood American. When he visits his relatives in Calcutta, he feels out of place, but when he dates Maxine whose roots go back to deep New York money, he doesn't fit there either and wants to keep his relationship with her separate from his Indian culture and relatives, something that just can't work. Gogle is constantly keeping his parents and culture at bay because he is not yet ready to embrace their world when he does not feel inundated in American culture enough. Even his marriage with another American-born Indian feels out of place when their bond is centered on this mutual out-of-place feeling; what they both are looking for is somewhere they belong.

This double nature is beautifully analogized with the tradition of a pet name and good name in India. Babies are given nicknames at birth and sometimes not even given an official name until documents are required for school. Lost in this new country they do not quite comprehend Ashoke and Ashima put their son's pet name on his birth certificate and without quite explaining the tradition to him, try to enroll him in school wtih his good name Nikhil. In the confusion the poor boy grows up with a goofy name until he is old enough to officially change his name. But just like he can't shed his Indian background, he can never quite become Nikhil, abolishing Gogle to his past. Instead he must come to appreciate both names (and cultures) without ever fully becoming one.

There were times I wish Lahiri had delved further into the relationships, but overall the emptiness of the interactions is in someways the appeal of the book.
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