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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
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The Namesake (2003)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

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A moving story which follows the lives of Indian newlyweds who emigrate to America, then the cultural and generational conflicts of their children. I learned many things about Indian culture, and overall I enjoyed the book very much. However…

Have you read people discussing the old debate “show” versus “tell”? Well, this book is ALL tell, and it got really old before I was halfway through. I felt like it stood in the way of the reader getting to know the characters.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
When I went to school at the University of Michigan, it it felt like all the Indian kids knew each other. They had built-in friends as soon as they walked on campus. Good friends, not the "that girl who graduated a few years ahead of me and we were in the National Honors Society together" friends. Their parents knew each other, they would explain. But I didn't really get it...with some exceptions, I wasn't necessarily close to my parents' friends' kids. And then I read The Namesake, and it clicked.

Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake is the story of Indian immigrants and their children in America. It begins when Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli are about to have their first child, recounting a bit of their individual histories in India and how they came to have their marriage arranged. When the boy is born, the pet name his parents give him while waiting for an Indian grandparent to send a letter with his "real name" ends up being recorded on his birth certificate out of confusion. Their child is named Gogol, after a Russian writer who is meaningful to Ashoke. Although his parents eventually settle on Nikhil to be his real name, Gogol sticks until he gets to college. Gogol hates his name, the way it sounds, the way it stamps him as unmistakably "other" in his American life. He changes it legally to Nikhil once he becomes an adult, but it is not quite so easy to deal with the uneasy internal tension between the Indian culture of his parents and the American culture he was raised and lives in, between who he was/is, and who he wants to be.

Although the novel takes turns, illuminating the story briefly through the eyes of Ashima and Ashoke, it mostly follows Gogol/Nikhil as he navigates childhood, college, and his adult relationships (curiously, it never follows his sister Sonia, who remains on the periphery, although it does very briefly follow the woman who becomes Gogol's wife after their marriage). Lahiri's prose is magnificent...it's rich without being flowery, and her words beautifully illustrate the dilemmas the characters face in a way that shows you without telling you. The characters themselves are well-rounded, multi-faceted, and face their entirely normal lives and problems in a way that feels like actual people you might know rather than characters on a page. Lahiri doesn't need to put them through incredible obstacles to show you who they are and why you should care. She just writes them with such humanity that it wouldn't even occur to you not to care. It's a wonderful book and I loved it. ( )
  ghneumann | Apr 26, 2016 |
This book provided a good journey in others' lives - a good read! ( )
  BridgitDavis | Apr 22, 2016 |
The rich descriptions are this book's blessing and curse. On the one hand, this book has sent me to my own draft to examine how I can better describe my characters and settings. On the other hand, the book is heavy on detail and short on story. I still feel as though I don't know these characters very well. ( )
  NadineFeldman | Mar 21, 2016 |
A very quick and easy read. I zipped through it in one afternoon. Unfortunately, I feel as though I've read it before; nothing new or particularly interesting gets said. That aside, it really is enjoyable, especially once Gogol gets into adulthood.
( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 252 (next | show all)
Jhumpa Lahiri's quietly dazzling new novel, ''The Namesake,'' is that rare thing: an intimate, closely observed family portrait that effortlessly and discreetly unfolds to disclose a capacious social vision.
 
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The reader should realize himself that it could not have happened otherwise, and that to give him any other name was quite out of the question.
        -- Nikolai Gogol, 'The Overcoat'
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For Alberto and Octavio,
whom I call by other names
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On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618485228, Paperback)

Any talk of The Namesake--Jhumpa Lahiri's follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, Interpreter of Maladies--must begin with a name: Gogol Ganguli. Born to an Indian academic and his wife, Gogol is afflicted from birth with a name that is neither Indian nor American nor even really a first name at all. He is given the name by his father who, before he came to America to study at MIT, was almost killed in a train wreck in India. Rescuers caught sight of the volume of Nikolai Gogol's short stories that he held, and hauled him from the train. Ashoke gives his American-born son the name as a kind of placeholder, and the awkward thing sticks.

Awkwardness is Gogol's birthright. He grows up a bright American boy, goes to Yale, has pretty girlfriends, becomes a successful architect, but like many second-generation immigrants, he can never quite find his place in the world. There's a lovely section where he dates a wealthy, cultured young Manhattan woman who lives with her charming parents. They fold Gogol into their easy, elegant life, but even here he can find no peace and he breaks off the relationship. His mother finally sets him up on a blind date with the daughter of a Bengali friend, and Gogol thinks he has found his match. Moushumi, like Gogol, is at odds with the Indian-American world she inhabits. She has found, however, a circuitous escape: "At Brown, her rebellion had been academic ... she'd pursued a double major in French. Immersing herself in a third language, a third culture, had been her refuge--she approached French, unlike things American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, or expectation of any kind." Lahiri documents these quiet rebellions and random longings with great sensitivity. There's no cleverness or showing-off in The Namesake, just beautifully confident storytelling. Gogol's story is neither comedy nor tragedy; it's simply that ordinary, hard-to-get-down-on-paper commodity: real life. --Claire Dederer

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:11 -0400)

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A young man born of Indian parents in America struggles with issues of identity from his teens to his thirties.

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