Book: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahira, narrated by Sarita Choudhury
Published August 2006 by Random House Audio|10 hours, 5 minutes
Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library
Genre: Adult Fiction
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations.
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 marriage, 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, 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 a 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.
I liked The Namesake more than I thought I would! It really made me think about immigrants, and the power of names and being a first-generation American.
It’s been quite a while since I finished this book, so it’s definitely not fresh in my mind. But there are a few things that stood out, particularly with pet names and good names. It’s sad that the staff at Gogol’s school didn’t understand the concept of the name, and Gogol seemed particularly confused by it as well. I really liked that you saw how different things were for Gogol and his parents, and I felt like I was experiencing things alongside Gogol and his parents. He didn’t choose his name, and you see that he has a really complicated relationship with it.
One scene that bothered me was when Gogol was at a dinner party, and one of the guests assumed that he didn’t need immunizations when he traveled to India with his parents because, and I’m paraphrasing, he’s from India. It was either his girlfriend or his girlfriend’s mother who said he was from the U.S. but even she didn’t seem sure. They were together for ages, and they were all living in the same house, and yet she had no idea where he was born. Yes, he is Bengali-American, but they didn’t seem to grasp the concept that he still needed immunizations to travel to India because he has never lived there. I felt angry on his behalf that people lacked understanding. It was probably just an innocent question for them, and they likely didn’t think anything about it, but it still really upset me because it seemed so insensitive.
Since I went for the audio book, I’ll talk about the narration! I honestly don’t remember much about the narrator, but I do remember she did a great job with the narration. I felt like she was Gogol, and she really brought him to life. I don’t think I’ll necessarily seek out any books narrated by her, but if I were listening to a book narrated by her, I wouldn’t mind.
4 stars. I really liked it, and I think, now more than ever, it’s important to read books like The Namesake. I feel like I learned so much just from reading it. What it’s like to be a child of immigrants is something I’ve never thought about- and never had to- but that’s why I’m glad I read it.