THE NAMESAKE by Jhumpa Lahiri

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-‘Em

The Namesake(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.

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.

FROM THE EDITORS: We'd love to hear from other Larchmont readers. Take the Book poll and add your comments.

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