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Rory Book Discussions > The Namesake

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message 1: by Alison, the guru of grace (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Let's read and discuss The Namesake for September's reading.

message 2: by Anna (new)

Anna (lilfox) | 199 comments It was nice book, but it didn't stay in my memory for long.

message 3: by Kayla (new)

Kayla | 130 comments I loved this book.

I fell in love with Russian literature when I was in high school, and I thought it was so great that it played such an important role in The Namesake.

I think Lahiri is amazing at developing characters. The people in her book and her short stories are always so down-to-earth and very memorable to me.

message 4: by Kristel (new)

Kristel | 164 comments Hi everyone,

I gladly accepted to be the discussion leader for this little novel about a rather heavy theme...

I used to be very active on goodreads RGBC sometime ago, I'm not a native Englishspeaker, for those who don't know me already...I make language mistakes, sorry. My native language is Dutch and I live in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium (a small country that some of you might heard of in the middle of Europe). But enough about me. This Friday I'll try and think of some interesting issues and questions to discuss.

So stay tuned.

message 5: by Alison, the guru of grace (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Yay, Kristel! So glad that you are going to help faciliate this discussion. I plan on reading The Namesake, but not right away.

message 6: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
Thank you, Kristel :)

message 7: by A.U.C. (new)

A.U.C. (AntoniaFUC) | 12 comments The first 100 pages are a true delight. After that, the book goes downhill. Not everybody agrees with me, though. Maybe it's just a matter of taste?

But certainly the theme of assimilation is truly gripping in those first few pages. My family's story is also somewhat of assimilation. What do you think about the assimilation theme?

message 8: by Kayla (new)

Kayla | 130 comments I think that Jhumpa Lahiri writes about assimilation so well, and if you read her short stories, you'll see that she is able to tell of a person's struggle with this issue from all different perpectives (young, old, male, female). I think she does a great job writing from a young person's perpective who is being raised in a completely different culture than his/her parents, because that was her experience growing up (born in London and raised in America by Indian parents).

Possible Minor Spoilers

The scene when Gogol first goes to kindergarten and the teacher or vice principle or whoever ignores Gogol's father's request that Gogol be called by his public name "Nikhil" shows how difficult/impossible it is to continue certain cultural traditions in another country, even a "melting-pot" country like America.

message 9: by Kristel (last edited Sep 03, 2010 09:14AM) (new)

Kristel | 164 comments I managed to find some interesting questions to begin the discussion. Watch it, possible spoilers ahead :)

1. Food plays a big part in the beginning of the book when Ashima attempts to make a Indian Snack with rice krispies. The writer tries to make a point with this, food is a cultural thing. Lahiri evokes meals beautifully. Does anyone got an appetite after reading?

2. What do you think of Gogol's problem with his name? I have a friend that's called Andy, but since Andy (although quite a common name in the States) is a bit of a doushbag name in Belgium, he prefers to be called by his last name. Another girl that I know named herself Ello in stead of Ellen, for the first being more special. Do any of you had a similar struggle with your name? The title, the namesake reflect the struggle Gogol goes through to identify with his unusual name. How do you think that works, choosing another name?

3. A classic question: could you identify with the characters? Where they real to you?

4. Ashoke got a feeling of acceptance when she had Gogol. She fitted in an people became interested in her. Have you ever connected with someone you may have otherwise never spoken to — of a different ethnic background or economic class — through his children or your own?

5. What do you think about the arranged marriage between Ashima and Ashoke.
Gogols love life is quite the opposite. Any thoughts on this. Is Gogol trying to be totally different from his parents? Is he rebellious in this way?

6. What do you think about India and the part it plays in the book

Thats it for now. I got some of this questions from this website: and made some adaptations.

message 10: by Kayla (last edited Sep 24, 2010 01:17PM) (new)

Kayla | 130 comments In answer to question 5:

I definitely think that Gogol is rebelling against his parents' traditions and lifestyle. He doesn't want to be Indian, he wants to be just American. He knows that his parents would love for him to marry an Indian girl and to learn about and visit India, but he ignores that and tries to live according to America's normalities.

message 11: by Katerina (new)

Katerina (katerinachristofidou) | 1 comments Regarding question 5.

I do believe that Gogol at the beginning, like every other teenager, wants to go against his parents, against everything they believe and stand by. However the minute his dad dies, he becomes a completely different person. In my opinion he is kind of forced to grow up, he becomes the leader of the family in a way. He willingly shaves his hair, he participates in the traditions, he brakes up with his non-Indian girlfriend and he even agrees to go on a date arranged by his mother which leads to his marriage.

However Lahiri aims to makes understand that coming from the same cultural background is not enough to make a marriage, or any relationship last. Yes having the same ideals and culture plays a significant role but in the global world we live in a number of other factors have to be taken into consideration. Parents normally just want their kids to be happy and leave behind any hopes or dreams they might have had. This is clearly noticeable in the book by Ashima's reaction to Sonya's marriage.

message 12: by Kristel (new)

Kristel | 164 comments The book, even though it's about an Indian family living in Boston, confronted with new traditions and new values, is actually very universal. Coming from different cultures causes a lot of strife and trouble where I come from. We had immigrantwaves in de 60's and 70's from Italy and Spain, we had immigrantwaves starting in the late seventies from Turkey and Marocco, and now we have new immigrants coming from the former eastern Europe states like Polen and Bulgary and immigrants from mainly Western Africa. Mixed marriages are becoming more common, but still prove difficult sometimes. I think that, like Gogol, becoming the head of the family after his fathers death, people tend to go back to their old values in times of need, because they need something familiar to hold on to.

message 13: by Anna (new)

Anna (lilfox) | 199 comments And the book shows that arranged marriage between people born and raised in different culture than their parents (like Gogol and girl he marries) doesn't always work out as good as it did for their parents.

message 14: by Alison, the guru of grace (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
I think that, like Gogol, becoming the head of the family after his fathers death, people tend to go back to their old values in times of need, because they need something familiar to hold on to.

I love that you said that Kristel. That's very true.

I loved this book! I thought it was so beautifully written. Like this big long poem about life, and love, and families. And I love how it comes full circle in the end. I thought the writing here was so real--the author certainly has a gift for developing characters (as someone else mentioned).

Regarding question #2: I think Gogol's disdain for his name was a bit of a metaphor for his disdain of being different in general. Remember when you were a child and all you wanted was to be like other people...just to blend in and not draw any added attention to yourself? And then later, you finally started to embrace the things about yourself that set you apart and they started to become a source of pride and inspire confidence in you?

I think that as a child, Gogol wanted so much to just blend in with other Americans. It was bad enough for him to look different and have different customs and holidays as the other children. It's almost as if all of his angst at being different was directed at something more tangible that also made him stand out--his name.

message 15: by Kristi (new)

Kristi (kristilarson) Everyone has really good comments about this book. I read it in a couple of days, I couldn't put it down. I was very impressed with Lahiri's writing, I will definitely read her other books.

message 16: by Alison, the guru of grace (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
I agree, Kristi. I thought it was great. I love this writer.

message 17: by Brigid (new)

Brigid (sillybrigid) | 13 comments I really enjoyed this book, too. I saw the movie when it came out, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it maintained the tone of the book. I loved Lahiri's style. She managed to describe so many details without ever feeling like a judgmental narrator. I think that really worked here.

As an answer to question #2, I agree that Gogol's hatred of his name was a metaphor for feeling like an outsider in general. It is also just difficult to grow up with an unusual name. I got teased on and off for mine, until I decided not to take it. When you're young, you want to be like everyone else, and being the only Gogol (or Brigid) in a class full of Jennifers and Joshes is challenging. But I think it's important that Gogol chooses Nikhil, not Nick or something more "American-sounding." He isn't ready to abandon his differentness, his Indianness, completely, but he does manage to fit in better with his mostly white peers.

message 18: by Joanie (new)

Joanie | 197 comments I held off on reading this for a long time. I think I had some preconceived notions that it wouldn't interest me but I wound up really enjoying it. When I found out what the book was about I expected to feel more sympathy for Gogol than for his parents but that wasn't the case. I felt for them, being uprooted, not being able to speak to their families for so long, having their kids show so little interest in their culture-all typical in an immigrant situation I know-but I still felt bad for them and felt kind of annoyed by Gogol/Nikhil.


I was really bothered by the fact that after Gogol and (forget her name) get married she begins an affair with that jerky guy from college. In some ways I felt like it came out of the blue but I guess she was dealing with her own desire to please her parents and marry an Indian man and maybe that's not what she truly wanted but I felt like there was so little indication of that and bam-there she is. Too bad.

message 19: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
I haven't read all of the comments because I haven't gone very far in the book. Just got to the part with Gogol in college (hey, a fellow Yale student like Rory!). I'm enjoying this so far, although sometimes it feels the author just glosses over some periods too quickly.

message 20: by Alison, the guru of grace (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
It is kind of an "epic" tale that remains quite short in the page count. It kind of reminded me of "Middlesex"--but not quite so ambitious in its desire to recall details of events.

message 21: by Kristel (new)

Kristel | 164 comments Have most of you seen the movie as well? How does it compare to the book? I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's on my list, so I hope to see it soon. I loved that guy who plays Gogol in House M.D. and in a kind of stupid movie, Van Wilder or something, but with excellent dialogues.

message 22: by Kristi (new)

Kristi (kristilarson) I watched the movie last weekend, and I thought it was a very good adaptation of the book. Jhumpa Lahiri is listed in the credits as playing a character, but I don't think she had any speaking lines. Kal Penn is the name of the actor playing Gogol. Something very interesting in the credits: Gogol is played by Kal Penn, and Nikhil is played by Kalpen Modi. Kal Penn was born as Kalpen Modi and uses Kal Penn as his acting name. I thought that was very appropriate for the story. My boyfriend watched the movie as well (not a reader!), and I think it touched him (although he won't talk about it) because of the father-son dynamic within the story.

I also put off reading this novel for a long time. I don't know much about Indian culture, so I was worried that I wouldn't like it or understand it. I thought it was such a beautiful story.

message 23: by Brittany (new)

Brittany (bpickering) | 2 comments Kal Penn actually quit his job with Obama at the White House to play the part of Nikhil/Gogol. The Namesake is his favorite novel. He used to check into hotels under the name Gogol Ganguli. He called Mira Nair, the director, and specifically asked for the part as soon as he heard about the movie. She already had the part cast, but I guess he talked her into casting him instead. I think that's why he was so great in the film. He really knew and understood the character's inner journey from Nikhil to Gogol.

message 24: by Alison, the guru of grace (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Wow. That's a great story. And interestingly enough, Jhumpa Lahiri was appointed a member of Obama's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

message 25: by Dini, the master of meaning (new)

Dini | 691 comments Mod
That is such a great story. I haven't seen the movie but would like to.


I finished the book and thought it was all right. I didn't like the whole relationship with Maxine, it felt too much like Gogol wanted to lose himself and disappear into Maxine's world, her house, her family. When he moved in with her I was reminded of Rory living in that apartment with Logan without having to pay rent. Of course their circumstances weren't exactly the same but I just crossed my mind somehow.

Joanie, I also felt weird about Moushumi's affair. The way it's written from her perspective also made it a little jarring as I had become used to reading from Gogol's point of view. But then I thought maybe the author didn't want the ending to feel 'too good to be true', that Gogol and Moushumi spent their whole lives feeling conflicted about their dual identities but ended up marrying an Indian anyway. I felt the message was that just because they share the same heritage and upbringing doesn't mean Gogol and Moushumi is guaranteed a happily ever after.

The ending scene with the party and Gogol finding his dad's book was REALLY good though. I felt he had really come full circle, maybe a little scarred but definitely wiser.

message 26: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 74 comments Anna wrote: "It was nice book, but it didn't stay in my memory for long."

Anna, exactly my thoughts. I borrowed my copy to a coworker indicating I enjoyed the book. She hated it and when we were trying to discuss it I found that I didn't remember very much at all!

message 27: by Kristel (new)

Kristel | 164 comments Rebecca and Anna, I have the same feeling. Somehow large parts of the story didn't stick with me.

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