THE NAMESAKE by Jhumpa
Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-‘Em
(March 26, 2004) Acclaim for the writer
Jhumpa Lahiri is undisputed; the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded her short
story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, its highest honor. The Book-'Em
group was equally admiring of her recently published first novel,
The Namesake is a familiar story of dislocation and the immigration experience in America.
The young Bengali couple, Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli, settle outside Boston and raise the
novel's protagonist, Gogol, and his sister, Sonali, in their blended Indian/American world.
Gogol in particular struggles with issues of assimilation and "belonging." His conflict is
epitomized by a name change to Nikhil, symbolic of his ongoing search for identity.
Shakespeare asks, "What is in a name?" and Book-'Em asked, "Do we use names to form
stereotyped impressions of people?" The process of assimilation and the experience of
alienation and accommodation were explored at length. While this is the story of Gogol's
search for identity, and the Ganguli family's integration into American life, the group
felt that assimilation is a nearly universal phenomenon in our lives, one which evoked in
everyone identification with the sympathetic characters of this novel. A highlight of our
discussion came from the personal reflections of a foreign-born club member that illuminated
the experience we had read about. Also revealing were the comments from our home-from-college
"guest," who spoke about the adjustment to that unique "culture" and the perspective it
offered to re-evaluate "home," our own Larchmont.
Imagine an evening without a single negative comment! The group unanimously enjoyed the
story line, the characters, the novel's pacing, and the emotional involvement with the
story (several members found themselves crying as they read). And everyone overwhelmingly
loved Lahiri's simple, elegant and eloquent writing style. One member captured the reaction
with the comment, "There is nothing between you and the pages."
This enthusiasm and admiration set a wonderfully animated tone to our evening. Book-'Em
unequivocally recommends The Namesake as a book group selection.
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