Book Review of The Namesake

August 2, 2009 at 6:52 pm Leave a comment

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He does not want his name.  He does not want to be the quiet, obedient boy he’s always been.  He does not want to be a part of the Bengali traditions and parties and arranged marriages. 

He is Gogol Ganguli, child of Indian immigrants, and one who wishes to be as American as his birth certificate.  He seizes control of his own life at eighteen: he changes his name to Nikhil, and attempts to reinvent himself through college.  He parties, he drinks, he has a few long-term and disastrous love affairs.  And yet, after all his trouble to disengage himself from the life he has grown up with, he begins to return to it after his father’s death.  Their shared heritage is his only link to his father, and he returns to some of the Bengali ways and customs.  He wants to be near his family again, and he starts dating a Bengali girl. 

The Namesake, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, is ultimately about family themes.  Heritage.  Rebellion.  The search for an identity.  Love.  The Ganguli family must learn to relate to each other, to overcome challenges, to accept each other’s choices. 

The book provokes discussions and realizations about the difficulties faced by immigrants; it draws the reader into the heartache of living in two worlds and being a part of none of them.  It showcases the struggles of a family seeking to find where they belong and trying to adapt to the new culture around them, and it also displays the trying times that are a part of any family and will resonate with any reader. 

Ultimately, however, I found this to be a depressing book.  Despite how hard he tries, Gogol seems to be running in the wrong direction, and by thirty he has made somewhat of a mess of his life.  It’s a starkly realistic book, which perhaps is not my taste anyway, but it does open the reader’s eyes to cultural complexities.

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