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The Namesake (2003)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,889290427 (3.91)1 / 461
A young man born of Indian parents in America struggles with issues of identity from his teens to his thirties.
  1. 40
    Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (reenum)
  2. 30
    Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (reenum)
  3. 00
    A Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: One is fictional and one not, but in both cases, young men of Indian descent grow up in the English-speaking Western world, all the while considering their roots. Also, impactful events on trains.
  4. 00
    Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  5. 01
    The Idiot by Elif Batuman (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: Children-of-immigrants growing up in the United States and figuring out where they belong.
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English (282)  Norwegian (1)  Dutch (1)  Japanese (1)  Finnish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (287)
Showing 1-5 of 282 (next | show all)
I had trouble at the beginning of [The Namesake]. Somehow the book didn't grab me until about 20% in (ah, Kindle influence showing there.) Then I was able to get more interested in Gogol and his trials, but felt throughout that something was lacking. I wasn't glued to this story and might not have finished the book if it weren't for the f2f group that met this Tuesday on Zoom. And others in the group voiced what I had only puzzled about. Gogol is not quite passive, but he becomes American by accepting circumstances he encounters in American society, whether that of a rich family in NYC or customs at Yale. It is only when his father dies that we see a hint of complexity. I wish there had been more of that. But this is Lahiri's first novel. Maybe [Unaccustomed Earth] is deeper. ( )
  ffortsa | Jul 8, 2020 |
One of the quirks I've noticed since I've been living in Nevada is how proud people are of how long their family has been in Nevada. If someone is a third, fourth, or fifth generation Nevadan, that will be one of the first things out of their mouths when they meet you. Growing up in Michigan, I never heard someone proudly call themselves a third-generation Michigander. It never would have occurred to anyone to say. Part of it, I think, is the immigrant culture of the other side of the country. Plenty of people aren't even third-generation Americans.

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.

Tell me, blog friends...do people tell you how many generations they've lived there in your state, or is that just a Nevada thing? ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
This is the first book I've read in months that I've actually enjoyed reading and wanted to continue with. So, that's exciting. Unfortunately, I have to agree with some of the other reviewers' criticisms: many of the most important events in the book don't actually get scenes, but are referred to in passing after the novel skips forward in time. There is a lot of "telling", rather than showing. Then sections of it seem like a sly wink at that "NYC academics who are also novelists" milieu, as if they were really the intended audience. (It's not as bad on this front as novels like Americanah, but just in parts...) This combines to make a novel that is nice to read, but once you finish you realise it didn't really have much of a plot. I vastly preferred The Lowland and recommend it to everyone who is considering reading this! (Aug 2015) ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
Beautiful, heart wrenching family saga. The part about Gogol’s name fading into nothingness...heartbreak. ( )
  tuf25995 | May 4, 2020 |
Captivated

Gentle description of relationship that brought me in and kept me hooked. Don't know much more than that. How delightful ( )
  leebill | Apr 30, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 282 (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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Epigraph
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'
Dedication
For Alberto and Octavio,
whom I call by other names
First words
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.
Quotations
For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy--a perpetual wait , a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.
Until now it has not occurred to Gogol that names die over time, that they perish just as people do.
"Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go."
"Now I know why he went to Cleveland, " she tells people, refusing even in death, to utter her husband's name. "He was teaching me how to live alone."
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