In her sweepingly beautiful debut novel, Lahiri crafts and expansive portrait of what it is to struggle with and against the self and what it takes to make peace with the past.
by Jhumpa Lahiri
[Mariner Books, 2004]
Ashima and her arranged-marriage husband, Ashoke are stunned when they are told they must name their newborn son before he can be taken home. Their Bengali traditions call for the boy to be named by an elder of the family, but Ashoke and Ashima are in America now, far from their home in Calcutta, and some customs must be sacrificed. This is how Gogol Ganguli is given his name and thus begins the story of a boy’s quest for identity and the lasting effects of his namesake into manhood.
For anyone who has experienced the duality of homesickness; longing for comfort while enjoying new freedoms, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) resonates and, at times, challenges.
“That’s what books are for… to travel without moving an inch.” –Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
Through Gogol, we see what it is to truly grapple with the meanings behind our fierce patriotic and familial loyalties alongside our determination to carve out a unique place of our own in the world.
As I read The Namesake, my heart ached for Ashima as she raised a family and sustained her marriage in a foreign land –no small task.
Lahiri masterfully captures the feeling of displacement. Of feeling unsettled. For anyone far from home, stories like this, of transition and change, can provide comfort, even in their foreignness.
Told in lyrical prose, The Namesake is worthy of all the hype it received when it was published in 2003 and has not faded in years since.