Monday, May 11, 2009

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Essentially a coming of age story, The Namesake takes this genre a step further by showing the growth of the main character betwixt and between two cultures--America and India. Gogol Ganguli is the intelligent son of Bengali parents who moved to the U.S. as newlyweds. His father named him after the author Nikolai Gogol whose story "The Overcoat" greatly influenced his life. The name is supposed to be temporary but ends up sticking. Gogol never feels like he fits in: as a child he finds the family trips back to the homeland strange, and as a teenager, he cringes at his parents' Bengali customs. But he doesn't feel completely at ease as an American either (witness his often painful relationships with women.) Lahiri's prose steps into high gear towards the end of the novel when she describes how a family tragedy forces Gogol to come to terms with himself. I honestly think her passages concerning the love between a parent and child are some of the most beautiful in the English language. Anybody who has lost a parent will identify with Gogol. I highly recommend this book.

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