By Jhumpa Lahiri
Completed July 10, 2009
A tale of family relationships and the immigrant experience, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri explored the lives of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, who settled in Boston from India, and their children, Gogol and Sonia. The first part of the book expressed Ashima’s difficulties with settling into her new home. While expecting their first child, the couple waited for a letter from a grandmother, which would detail the names of their child. The letter never arrived, forcing Ashoke and Ashima to choose a name for their son, settling on “Gogol,” who was a Russian writer who was influential on Ashoke as a young man.
The story then transitioned into Gogol’s life – and his discomfort with his name. Before college, he changed it to Nikhil, attempting to shed the Indian and family ties that he felt bound him. We follow Gogol through college and architectural school, dead-end relationships and a cultural restlessness. It wasn’t until the unexpected death of his father that Gogol began to feel comfortable with his Indian heritage – though too late to share with his father.
The Namesake spoke in a whisper but delivered strong messages about ancestry, family and culture. I believe Lahiri is a short story writer at heart, and her chapters throughout The Namesake could have stood alone. I found the ending to be endearing, leaving me with hopefulness for Gogol and his family.
Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri should definitely put The Namesake on their shelves. I look forward to reading her latest short story collection, The Unaccustomed Earth very soon. She is one of our most talented storytellers.