Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 2003

It's about: The Namesake, Lahiri's second book after her Pulitzer prize-winner, Interpreter of Maladies, follows the Ganguli family across two continents from Calcutta, India to Boston, Massachusetts. Beginning with the arranged marriage of Ashima and Ashoke, we see the birth of their two children, then watch as their son grows into a man, whose various relationships shape him as a man and help him come to terms with various aspects of his identity as an Indian American.

I thought: Jhumpa Lahiri is an undeniably talented writer. Despite the famous simplicity and straightforwardness of her narratives, they carry a quiet but profound significance.

The Namesake explores cultural tension and transformation within only two generations of immigrants, the cycle of parent-child relationships from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, the role cultural heritage plays in romantic and familial relationships, the effects of loss, the significance of a name, the foundations of a healthy or a doomed marriage, and so on, and so on, and so on. It is remarkable what Lahiri can do with a basic story of boy meets girl, boy and girl move to a new country, boy and girl have children, children grow up. She writes existence into meaning with an understated yet unmissable beauty.

I can safely say I am ready to read my next Lahiri.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf

Reading Recommendations: If you loved Interpreter of Maladies, you will not be disappointed.

Warnings: This book could be called neither fast-paced nor cheerful. This book will tug at your heart strings.

Favorite excerpts:
"For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is sort of lifelong pregnancy -- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts... Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect."

"The givers and keepers of Gogol's name are far from him now... Without people in the world to call him Gogol, no matter how long he himself lives, Gogol Ganguli will, once and for all, vanish from the lips of loved ones, and so, cease to exist. Yet the thought of this eventual demise provides no sense of victory, no solace. It provides no solace at all."

What I'm reading next: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (because it's about time!)