The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Mariner Books Genre: Literary Fiction Pages: 291 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 Stars
Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake follows two generations of Bengali immigrants as they make a life for themselves in America. The Ganguli family, consisting of Ashima (mother), Ashoke (father), Gogol (son) and Sonia (daughter), paint a representation of how Indian American families cope with cultural divides and intimacy across generations.
The novel begins with a young Ashima and Ashoke as they move from Calcutta, India to America. Ashoke is a young college student at MIT trying to prove himself among his peers. Ashima is a mother who is frightened of the unfamiliar world she finds herself in. Their children, Gogol and Sonia, are the focal point of much of the novel. As they grow up, the children are faced with pressure to conform to either American or Indian culture. Eventually, as they become adults, Gogol and Sonia learn how to coexist with these social pressures. The children create their own families and self identities. Ashima and Ashoke find a way to accept the lives their children create for themselves.
What most impressed me most about The Namesake was how invested I became in the story of this fictional family. Lahiri is gifted at crafting intimate moments between characters. The novel begins in a moment of discomfort as Ashima gives birth to her son in an unfamiliar hospital in an unfamiliar country. It’s clear from the first narrative moment that Lahiri is not afraid to show pain and raw emotion in her work. This trend continues throughout the novel as the children grow up and begin exploring their American culture. Every moment of tension, sadness, and joy could be felt through the page. By the end, I felt that I knew each of the characters personally and had been on a journey of self-exploration with them.
Turning the final page of The Namesake was a sad moment for me. I felt like I was abandoning the characters halfway through their journey. Even though I had read about two whole generations of the family, I wanted to continue on with them and see what new challenges life would present them. The Namesake is a beautifully written novel that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys emotional, character driven writing, or, just a good cry. Jhumpa Lahiri is a talented author whose other books are definitely on my 2020 Reading List.