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The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri

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

by Jhumpa Lahiri

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10,085273282 (3.91)1 / 435
Title:The Namesake: A Novel
Authors:Jhumpa Lahiri
Info:Mariner Books (2004), Paperback
Collections:Your library

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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)


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English (268)  Norwegian (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Japanese (1)  All (272)
Showing 1-5 of 268 (next | show all)
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? ( )
  500books | May 22, 2018 |
I really enjoyed this book. It was written beautifully and captured the struggle of self discovery and the influence of family. ( )
  JamieBH | Apr 3, 2018 |
Gogol's parents raise him in Boston, he grows to be an architect; falls in love with maxine's relaxed but close knit family- whose taste in life and nature appeal to thim more, with whom he feels more comfortable and therefore guilty. Then his father dies in Ohio and as he draws closer to his mother and sister, patient Maxine falls out. Then marries a bengali French lecturer, who starts an affair on her trips. Splits and alone at 33.

Captures the listlessness of kAma-pradhAna kids of artha-pradhAna Bengali American immigrants well, and the mix of love and contempt between the two generations. ( )
  kashcit | Feb 27, 2018 |
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri; (2 1/2*)

While I found the writing style of this book to be beautiful I still found the book itself to be stilted and a bit off-putting. The plot is interesting, as are the characters. However the style in which the book is written distanced me from the work. I could just not connect with it. The narrative contains little conversation and not much occurs within the story line. I was unable to get a feel for any of the characters and though I wanted to like this book, in the end I was quite disappointed. I was particularly annoyed with Gogol's pointless relationships and therefore with the excruciating details Lahiri used to describe them. Instead of creating clear images of the characters her technique became droll and painful to this reader. ( )
  rainpebble | Nov 24, 2017 |
If I was reading for setting this would be an excellent book, but I’m focused on character and wished Jhumpa had too. There’s no denying how lovely and lyrical the descriptions of place are but I found one of the main character’s motivation lacking.

The first part of the book concerns Ashima and Ashoke, the better developed of the characters. Once they are established the story becomes about their oldest child once he is introduced in the story. He hates his name, no reason is really given at least not satisfactorily. There is no traumatic event that preceded his hatred. This is were I lost interest in the book. It just wasn’t real, it seemed so contrived, his anger, and disgust at the name Gogol. I waited and waited for some explanation for the aversion but none ever came. I understand the cultural identity that Gogol was fighting, he is American didn’t like being made to feel different because of his name, but that came up before he’d even started kindergarten. Nothing happened to instigate this reaction.

Sorry, I know I’m harping a bit but the rest of story was ruined for me because I couldn’t get past this omission. Sure, Jhumpa writes pretty, detailed prose, but it wasn’t enough for me. The rest of the story, the characters, Maxine, Moushumi, Sonia, seemed flat and boring, I didn’t care what happened to any of them with the exception of Ashima. If the story had remained focused on the parents story I would have enjoyed it more. Ashima was the only fully realized character, but we lost sight of her when the story shifted to Gogol. ( )
  LynneMF | Aug 20, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 268 (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'
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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