Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Fiction.  This was the book I had intended to read by Lahiri, but I checked it out twice from my library's digital consortium and never managed to read it during the busy semester.  So, at the end of the semester here, I was able to check out the short stories first, and then this novel.  I am glad I read them in that order though, because I was set up for her style and insights before reading the novel.  

This one focuses on a Bengali boy who ends up going by his family name, Gogol, instead of his good name for most of his life.  It is explained in the work, that Bengalis give their children two names: one to be used amongst family and at home, another to be used in public, for things like school, jobs and so forth.  However, the tradition was also to have an older woman in the family give him his name, but the Gangulis never received the letter.  When time ran out and they had to put something on a certificate, figuring they could change it later when the letter finally arrived, they put down his nickname, Gogol, after a Russian writer that was important to his father.

Gogol is vexed throughout the work by his name and what it represents to him, not knowing where his father actually obtained it until much into Gogol's adulthood.  He is constantly walking the line between wanting to honor his parents and his heritage while simultaneously growing up as an American and wanting to be like other boys/men in the U.S.

It is an excellent work, and I would recommend it to all readers, but especially those interested in learning something about one of India's many cultural groups, the issues faced by immigrants and their families, and how we form our identities as we grow up.

And so it goes...

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