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Book Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (5/5). I cut my lunch short because a character made me so angry I couldn’t look at the book anymore.

8 Dec

I honestly don’t know why I grabbed this book. I was at a massive book sale last year and saw it on the $2 table and decided I needed to have it. When our library sponsor was asking for book club books, I recommended this one, always excited to get a book off my personal list and into a book club. I’m so glad I did. This book was amazing.

Cover image via

Cover image via

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Summary from Goodreads:

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. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

How many ways can I say that I loved this book? There are stories without much action that drag and there are those, like this gem, that develop slowly but let you get to know the characters and watch them change and feel what they feel and fall in love. I haven’t highly recommended a book in a long time, but I’m pushing this one on people.

I loved how real the characters felt. Gogol and his family reminded me of a coworker of mine and her family. I know she struggles between her Indian heritage and the Americanization of her sons and the life around her. It’s a struggle that’s very real to immigrants of any nationality and I thought Lahiri covered it well. Gogol’s struggle in particular was something I saw growing up. I knew a girl named Young who went by Sarah, a boy named Sae-Jeung who went by Kevin and a boy named Dushianth who went by Dushy. Names can be hard to live win, especially ones that are hard to say or spell. Gogol’s anguish was understandable.

Ashima was my favorite character by far. She reminded me of my co-worker who I’m very close with. She made me think of a good friend of mine from high school whose parents were Taiwanese immigrants and who I know deeply missed their family. They weren’t able to go back to visit often. My friend had a very Americanized name but her Taiwanese name was her middle name and she didn’t tell it to any of us for a long time. It was a sort of secret that she hid, much like Gogol and his birth name. I think Ashima was very relatable.

My parents are not immigrants, nor am I, but I think the story has some very universal elements to it. I’ve already compared similar struggles to friends of mine from Eastern Asia. If you are a first generation immigrant, do you think the story is universal?

Image via The Telegraph

Image via The Telegraph

I loved the time Gogol spent with Maxine. I believe the time was very escapist for him and it was fun to watch. He was trying to become Nikhil, whoever he was, and liked exploring someone else’s life, like he was exploring someone else’s name. I loved how care-free and relaxed we see him during this time. I think it provides a stark contrast to when he tries to go back to his roots afterward.

I started to get mad at the book when Moushumi cheated on Gogol. That’s when I threw the book down on the table and stalked away. It made me so angry that the world seemed to be working against Gogol ever finding happiness and understanding. He thought that someone with his background would help him feel like he fit in, but Moushumi was rushing into a relationship as fast as Gogol was. It broke my heart to see her hurt him like that.

I loved all the messages about family in this book. Gogol tried to escape his family and become a part of someone else’s, but he realized that the things tethering him to his parents were stronger than his desire for change. But the thing he turned to for stability left him. In the end, it was his mother he could return to and his father’s memory that comforted him. I thought it was really beautiful.

Writer’s Takeaway: Wow, I don’t know what to say about the style in this book and how to use it in my writing. It’s hard to put my finger on what made the writing click so well for me. Lahiri uses long paragraphs but doesn’t get too hung up on detail. She used simple language, not bogging down the story with language and letting it move along. She used third person limited from a lot of heads but was able to keep the focus on Gogol. The things other people described either had him in the scene or directly affected his life. She had a great balance in everything she did and the writing was really beautiful.

A full five out of five for this book. I loved it so much.

This book fulfills Massachusetts for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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