Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

‘The Namesake’ is the story of a boy brought up Indian in America.

'When her grandmother learned of Ashima's pregnancy, she was particularly thrilled at the prospect of naming the family's first sahib. And so Ashima and Ashoke have agreed to put off the decision of what to name the baby until a letter comes…'

For now, the label on his hospital cot reads simply BABY BOY GANGULI. But as time passes and still no letter arrives from India, American bureaucracy takes over and demands that 'baby boy Ganguli' be given a name. In a panic, his father decides to nickname him 'Gogol' – after his favourite writer.

Brought up as an Indian in suburban America, Gogol Ganguli soon finds himself itching to cast off his awkward name, just as he longs to leave behind the inherited values of his Bengali parents. And so he sets off on his own path through life, a path strewn with conflicting loyalties, love and loss…

Spanning three decades and crossing continents, Jhumpa Lahiri's much-anticipated first novel is a triumph of humane story-telling. Elegant, subtle and moving, ‘The Namesake’ is for everyone who loved the clarity, sympathy and grace of Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize-winning debut story collection, ‘Interpreter of Maladies’.

My Thoughts:

Jhumpa Lahiri

This is one book that every Indian living abroad can relate to. The Gangulis are a traditional Indian family who move to America just before Gogol is born. As Gogol grows up, he is caught between the cultures of his parents' country and the country he lives in now. While his parents embrace Indian culture and everything that reminds them of their home country, Gogol struggles to make sense of it all and India is just a distant nation that is as foreign to him as the moon. While his parents try to grow him as Indian as possible, he tries to put as much distance as possible between him and India.

In this book, the author beautifully portrays the difficulties of settling in a foreign country and the emotional havoc it can wreak on people who are caught in the crossroads of two nations with completely different people and culture. The book is a fantastic read for all Indians, especially the NRIs. The author shows complete command over language and proceeds with the plot in a breezy yet elegant style. At no point in the book did I feel bored or restless.

A few scenes stand out in the book, such as the one when Gogol's father dies and the subsequent consequences the incident causes on the lives of all the other Gangulis, and the scene where Maxine tries to understand Gogol's feelings and emotions but fails to do so. Gogol's mother, Ashima's worries about her children going wayward in a foreign land and Gogol's father, Ashoke's sheer determination to raise his children as intelligent and noble people speak volumes about Indian parents. It is also a great book for some insights into the present generation's mindset at large.

I feel every Indian who is planning on settling abroad should read this book. This book beautifully exposes the merits and limitations on such a move. Spanning three generations, this story is one of its kind.


“That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

“You are still young, free.. Do yourself a favor. Before it's too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late.” 

“Try to remember it always," he said once Gogol had reached him, leading him slowly back across the breakwater, to where his mother and Sonia stood waiting. "Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.”  

About the Author - Jhumpa Lahiri:

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London and brought up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Brought up in America by a mother who wanted to raise her children to be Indian, she learned about her Bengali heritage from an early age. 

Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School and later received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989. She then received multiple degrees from Boston University: an M.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She took up a fellowship at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center, which lasted for the next two years (1997-1998).

In 2001, she married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who was then Deputy Editor of TIME Latin America. Lahiri currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. She has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center since 2005.

Lahiri taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Much of her short fiction concerns the lives of Indian-Americans, particularly Bengalis.

She received the following awards, among others:
1999 - PEN/Hemingway Award (Best Fiction Debut of the Year) for "Interpreter of Maladies";
2000 - The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year for "Interpreter of Maladies";
2000 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut Interpreter of Maladies

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