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Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Book Information
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 9/1/2004
Pages: 304

Book Summary

Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world- conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri brilliantly illuminates the immigrant experience and the tangled ties between generations.

Review

Pulitzer-prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake has garnered an impressive literary and popular reputation, largely as an intricate novel detailing the inter-generational dynamics of immigrant families. Scattered throughout with sensuous detail of traditions, The Namesake follows the Ganguli family as they navigate cities and negotiate identities across continents and across generations. 

While the evocative and well-written descriptions filled each page with the smell of spices and the silken patterns of colorful saris, it was the portraits of family relationships as they disintegrate and fall back together that proved most vivid. The novel opens with Ashima, pregnant and far from her family in Calcutta, in her Boston apartment's kitchen, re-creating an Indian snack with American products to satisfy her cravings. Having followed her husband, Ashoke, an intimate stranger, to America, Ashima finds herself lonely, isolated, and confused, a feeling that fades although never completely disappears. 

Upon giving birth to her son, Ashoke and Ashima wait for her grandmother's letter, which will contain the rightful name, but upon leaving the hospital, American law and custom requires a name to be chosen for the birth certificate. Thus, the son becomes Gogol, a name tied to both the stories of the Russian author his father loves and to a buried story from his father's past. And so begins Gogol's journey through childhood and numerous relationships, several names, and many convoluted intersections with the past. 

The Namesake is a beautiful, poignant story about reconciling the present with the past, American culture with Indian tradition, self-making with parental expectation. It's a novel that speaks to moments of living in-between that haunts you long after the characters' have lived out their time on the page.

Reviewed by Miranda Wojciechowski

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