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November 2018: Literary Fiction > The Namesake / Jhumpa Lahiri - 5*****

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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6181 comments The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
Digital audiobook performed by Sarita Choudhury.

The novel follows the Ganguli family over three decades, beginning when Ashoke and Ashima’s marriage is first arranged in Calcutta. They settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Ashoke is studying engineering, have two children, buy a house and live their lives: Indians with American children.

This is the type of literary fiction I adore. Lahiri writes with such eloquence and grace, letting the reader learn about this family much as she would do when meeting new acquaintances who become friends over decades. Their story tackles issues of the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, differences (and conflicts) between generations, and personal identity.

While their parents find a community of other Bengalis with which to associate and celebrate life’s milestones, their children – son Gogol and his younger sister Sonia – are clearly Americans. And yet, Gogol still struggles with identity. First there is his odd name, then there are the lunches his mother packs for him, and the holidays they celebrate (or do not). While his parents cling to the traditions of their upbringing, Gogol wants only to fit in – to have a Christmas tree, and eat peanut butter, hamburgers and French fries. On trips back to India to see family and friends, Gogol feels lost; he does not clearly understand or speak the language, is unfamiliar with the city, cannot fathom why his family stays with relative after relative rather than getting a hotel room or renting an apartment of their own for the duration. In some respects, he is an immigrant in both countries.

Towards the end of the novel Gogol reflects on his and his parents’ lives: He wonders how his parents had done it, leaving their respective families behind, seeing them so seldom, dwelling unconnected, in a perpetual state of expectation, of longing. … He had spent years maintaining distance from his origins; his parents, in bridging that distance as best they could.

And he comes to a sort of conclusion: These events have formed Gogol, shaped him, determined who he is. They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.

Sarita Choudhury does a marvelous job narrating the audiobook. She sets a good pace that still allows the reader to absorb the complexities of the writing. Still, I am glad that I also have a text copy. Lahiri’s writing is the kind that I want to pore over, to read and read again.

LINK to my review

Diane Zwang | 485 comments I loved this book too.

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5785 comments What a nice review! I really like this author. I don't remember the details of this book, but I remember how I felt when I read it. Her short story book Interpreter of Maladies won a Pulitzer, and it's one of my favorites. I love the stories and the structure of the whole book.

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