The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
It seems like most people have probably already either read the book, or seen the movie, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. In that respect, this is also a story well known just by the content. A story of culture-clash, of two generations struggling to find an identity in America. Substitute just about any other ethnicity for Bengali, and this could very well be your life story if you are a second generation immigrant to the US. Although I wasn’t born here, I came to this country at an age young enough to be able to adopt all the “typical” American behaviors and characteristics that were not the norm in my parents eyes. Teenagers have a hard enough time to begin with trying to figure out their lives, throw into the mix the identity crisis of culture, and its a bona-fide recipe for angst and confusion.
As the central focus of the novel, Gogol Ganguli is a representation of his parents dream of the US, of their future. While his parents still tightly cling onto their Bengali past, Gogol struggles to break free in anyway he can. Despising the Russian name bestowed by his parents, he changes it to his original good name, Nikhil once he turns eighteen. What I enjoyed is that the author continued to call him Gogol throughout the rest of the book. Gogol never quite acclimated himself to become Nikhil, his only alternative persona from Gogol. Gogol was named after the Russian author, Nikoli Gogol. Gogol’s father, Ashoke, was reading a book of Gogol’s (the author) short stories, when his train flew off the tracks, killing hundreds and dangerously wounding others. It was because of the book in his hand that Ashoke was found in the rubble and his life was saved. Gogol, (the son) never understood the relevance of his name until after he had graduated from Yale and was well into his career as an architect. I think this story helped Gogol with his acceptance of his Bengali life.
Since I’ve seen the movie a few times, the book felt a little slow for me. I liked that the movie condensed Gogol’s angst and cultural confusion, but I enjoyed how the book shed light on some of the smaller characters. In both the book and the movie Gogol’s sister, Sonia, has an incredibly small role, but Ashima is given more freedom and strength in the movie. Constant connections are made between Gogol’s love life, and that of his parents. Gogol rushes into his future to constantly become something he’s not, always unhappy with who he turns into. His parents are in limbo between their past and their present trying to make sense of the their lives and find their own place. It is also after his father’s death, when Gogol finally begins to find happiness with himself as Moushumi, his wife, become the focus of the story with her internal struggle to be a “proper Bengali wife” despite her aspirations to be something, anything, else.
FINAL GRADE: B