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The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
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The Namesake: A Novel (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Jhumpa Lahiri

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9,562262301 (3.91)416
Member:Boobalack
Title:The Namesake: A Novel
Authors:Jhumpa Lahiri
Info:Mariner Books (2004), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 291 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Fiction, East Indian Americans, Assimilation, Immigrants, Read

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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

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Showing 1-5 of 258 (next | show all)
I loved her Unaccustomed Earth , but this was not so engrossing. Interesting tale of a search for identity by a Bengali man in Boston. Good references to architecture, Chelsea in Manhattan, good descriptions of Bengal social life. Often too detailed , this dragged. My familiarity wit Manhattan enhanced my pleasure. Shnoop website has interesting analysis of the characters. ( )
  MaximWilson | Sep 25, 2016 |
There is something about Indian family sagas that makes for great literature. Rohinton Mistry has written some great ones. I guess it is the dynamics of the close family ties that we Westerners admire but we also know that we would never want that for ourselves. Lahiri has evoked the life of a Bengali family in America masterfully in this novel.
Gogol Ganguli was born in Boston to Ashima and Ashoke, immigrants from Calcutta who moved to the United States so Ashoke could further his studies in electrical engineering. Their marriage was arranged and they hardly knew each other when they started living together in Boston. Ashima was particularly lonesome so far from home and her family. When she became pregnant they agreed that her grandmother would pick a name for the child. The grandmother sent off her choice in a letter but the letter never arrived. Told by the hospital officials that they had to pick a name to put on the birth certificate before they left the hospital, Ashoke chose Gogol after his favourite Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol. Actually Ashoke had an even more important reason for choosing the name but Gogol was a grown-up before his father told him that reason. When Gogol started kindergarten his parents registered him as Nikhil Ganguli. In India most people have a pet name and a good name. Your family and close friends call you by your pet name but everyone else uses your good name. Ashoke and Ashima thought that their son should have a good name that was not quite as unusual as Gogol. However, when Gogol started kindergarten he would not respond to Nikhil and told the principal that his name was Gogol. Consequently, Gogol was how he was known until he went to university. By then he had come to despise the name Gogol and he decided to change his name to Nikhil. Gogol rejected his parents’ lifestyle in other ways. He decided to become an architect instead of a doctor or engineer as most young Bengali men did. He drank whereas his parents never had any liquor. His first serious love affair was with an American woman who introduced him to plays and art and food that he had never encountered before. As he got older, though, he started to understand his parents and to follow their advice. He was convinced by his mother to date the daughter of a friend, someone who had often been to parties where Gogol was in attendance. They got married but the marriage ended when Gogol found out his wife was having an affair. Gogol would have to find his own path in life, treading between Bengali and American culture.
I recommend this book highly but I have one piece of advice: don’t read this book on an empty stomach. The description of Indian food had me salivating and wishing I could whip up a batch of curry. However we are camping and I don’t have any of my curry spices with me. Maybe somewhere on the road we will run across an Indian restaurant. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 30, 2016 |
Bengali family — children born here — their life — trying to assimilate w/ American after they go to college — very pensive — slow feeling + words

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.
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  christinejoseph | Jul 24, 2016 |
My favorite book from this Pulitzer prize-winning author. ( )
  ChrisWay | Jul 5, 2016 |
Not the best novel I’ve ever read. I can’t really think why this should be on the 1001 list except that it was introduced from the second edition onwards to counterbalance the white-male-author predominance of the first list.

There’s nothing here that the world of fiction hasn’t seen before. V. S. Naipaul’s whole career was built on writing that explores the confusion of identity that comes from cultural displacement. He got the Nobel Prize. I don’t think Jhumpa will be shortlisted anytime soon.

For me, this was one in a series of five random reviews that see biography passed off as lightly veiled fiction. Jhumpa is, like her protagonist Gogol, the victim of parental emigration and mistaken identity by culturally short-sighted school teachers. She too was carted backwards and forward to Kolkata to see relatives she barely knew but which her parents insisted were her ‘real’ family. And it was also her who struggled to break free of these childhood tethers to establish her independent USAnian identity.

While I suppose it’s natural for writers to draw on their own life experiences both for inspiration for characters and plot as well as for the passion that drives them to want to communicate something, it certainly saves the hard work of trying to understand anyone else’s situation.

And reading more about the novel and particularly the film that was made of it, I can’t help wondering if this is simply a vehicle for self-indulgence. After all, Jhumpa not only made sure that the kitchen cabinets in the Gangulis’ kitchen were the same colour as her own family’s, something that would mean nothing to anyone but the Lahiris, but she also couldn’t resist her and other family members taking cameo roles. Hmm…

So, is this an important novel? Well, it’s readable, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was a little late in the day for a novel that focussed on issues of migration. Published in 2004, the world is a far more connected and culturally heterogenous place than it was, say, in 1976 when I was taken overseas by my parents. I’ve already referenced Naipaul’s work (Enigma of Arrival (1987) in particular), and, without much thought, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) or Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North (1966) also come to mind.

I’ve got a feeling that this one won’t be anywhere near memorable than those for me. It seemed like an an okay novel which was readable enough but, for me, there’s something about it that makes it fall short of being important. Maybe time will prove me wrong, but for now, I just wasn’t that taken with it. ( )
  arukiyomi | Jun 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 258 (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'
Dedication
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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