September 15, 2008

The Namesake

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Contemporary Fiction
2003 Mariner Books
291 pages
Finished on 9/12/08
Rating: 3/5 (Above Average)

Product Description

Jhumpa Lahiri's debut story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, took the literary world by storm when it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Fans who flocked to her stories will be captivated by her best-selling first novel, now in paperback for the first time. The Namesake is a finely wrought, deeply moving family drama that illuminates this acclaimed author's signature themes: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, 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 an arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Ashoke does his best to adapt while his wife pines for home. When their son, Gogol, is born, the task of naming him betrays their hope of respecting old ways in a new world. And we watch as Gogol stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.

With empathy and penetrating insight, Lahiri explores the expectations bestowed on us by our parents and the means by which we come to define who we are.

I was immediately captivated by this book, falling easily into Lahiri's marvelous storytelling with its vivid, cinemagraphic detail and sense of place. Yet, in spite of the ease of readability, the novel falls flat. It's a story of a life very much like everyone's: birth, childhood, college, career, dating, marriage, and death. Nothing remarkable occurs during the narrative. There is no suspense. No tension. No conflict. No resolution. The prose isn't even remarkable. And yet, Lahiri has the ability to draw her reader into Gogol's life; she makes us eager to see where it leads, eager to learn about Bengali customs.

I don't mind a quiet, contemplative novel; The Samurai's Garden comes to mind (although it is far superior to Lahiri's debut novel, with its evocative and lyrical prose). I enjoy learning about other cultures; Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance is a superb example, with its fabulous characterization and richly drawn plot. However, The Namesake plods along, laboring under the weight of boring piles of insignificant, tiresome minutia. There's nothing to drive the story forward other than the all too-predictable sequence of events. I would've liked to have learned more about how the characters felt and their insights into love and life, rather than where they lived and what they ate. I wanted to known more about Ashima (Gogol's mother) and how she felt about her life in the United States instead of following Gogol, who, let's face it, is a pretty boring protagonist. Fortunately, Lahiri managed to maintain my interest enough so I could finish the book for my book club. I wonder if I would've completed it without that commitment. If anything, I'm inspired to re-read A Fine Balance. Now that's a great book!


  1. Anonymous9:29 PM

    Yes, let's go back and reread A FINE BALANCE, such a wonderful book. I haven't read this one, but I had a coworker from India who said she didn't like it too much. She said it was just like her life and she found that uninteresting.

  2. Well, I haven't read this book but I did see the movie! Which I liked, actually.

    I agree that A Fine Balance is a GREAT book, and one of the best I've read. I'm glad you mentioned it.

  3. I liked this book better than her first: Interpreter of Maladies. Although both were good, in my opinion. I've not read A Fine Balance yet, but my mother loved it. I've heard just wonderful things about it, so perhaps I'll pick it up one day. I think I've stayed away because somewhere in my mind is the idea that it's very sad. There's only so much sadness I can take, sometime. It's one of those 'have to be in the right timeframe to read it' things. If that makes sense.

  4. Hi, Lesley!

    I linked to you through Stephanie's Written Word.

    I see you are in Lincoln. My hubby is from NE and we're there often in the fall for football games.

    What bookstore do you work at?

  5. I really enjoyed reading this book. Not for the style of writting but for the story. But I am not sure if I would read her again because all her books seem to talk about the immigrant expereince. After awhile, you have to say to yourself, Enough Already.
    Thanks for my chance to leave a comment.

  6. I just stumbled on to your blog and stuck on coz I am in the process of reading Namesake. I have read similar cross-culture cross-border narratives so I dont think its completely unique but I am sure I will have a definitive opinion when I am done

  7. I've yet to read this author, although I have two of her books. Not this one. Figures. :)

  8. Hi Lesley! I was linked to your blog through Stephanie's Written Word. :)

    You've a great blog here!

  9. I saw the movie but haven't read the book even though it's sitting in my tbr pile.

  10. I'm glad to read your thoughts on this one. I loved Interpreter of Maladies, but I've had trouble getting into this one just for the fact that there does seem to be little conflict (from what I've read of it). Lahiri's writing is gorgeous, though, so I'll give it another try at some point.

  11. Kay - It is a wonderful book, isn't it? I have another by Rohinton Mistry in my stacks, but haven't gotten to it yet. I think it's called Family Matters. Have you read that one?

    Tara - My book group is going to watch the movie after a brief discussion.

    I'll ask you, as well. Have you read Mistry's Family Matters? I think that's the title. I'm too lazy to get up and go look.

    Bellezza - Hmmm, I think I'll skip Interpreter of Maladies. It's a collection of short stories, right? I don't do well with those.

    Hmmm, I don't remember thinking that A Fine Balance is terribly sad, but then it's been several years since I read it. I just remember how detailed and rich the writing was. And how I came to know the characters. It'd be a good choice for a chunkster challenge.

    Shana - Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I work at the B&N at South Pointe. Where do you guys live? I've got your blog bookmarked for future perusal!

    Seaside Book Worm - Another new visitor to my blog! Thanks for stopping by. I'm going to have fun visiting all these new blogs!

    Regarding this book/author, yeah, I'm not sure if I'll read more by her either. I do enjoy reading about other cultures, though, so ya never know.

    Thanks again for visiting.

    Vipula - Another visitor! What a treat. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. Thanks for commenting.

    Nancy - I'd be more than happy to send you my copy. Let me know!

    Melody - Goodness! I guess I owe Stephanie a huge thank you for sending so many visitors my way. What a treat! And now I get to visit a bunch of new blogs, too. :)

    Katya - I wonder how the movie compares to the book. I'm looking forward to watching it next week at book club.

    Andi - You're a fan of short stories, aren't you? I've never really found a collection that I really love, so I'm not sure I'll read Interpreter of Maladies.

  12. I enjoyed reading The Namesake, but I agree that it fell flat. I've never heard of A Fine Balance - thank you for introducing me to a new book.

  13. Lesley, I go to that B&N every time we're in Lincoln. Cool!

    We live in MO, close to Kansas City. My husband grew up in NE and attended UNL.

    We have season tickets, so end up back in Lincoln quite frequently in the fall.

  14. Charley - You're in for a treat with A Fine Balance. What a book!

    Shana - I'm there, Monday thru Friday, 7-11 (or 1 or 2, depending on how busy we are!) Look me up next time you're in the store.

    We have friends who live in Lathrop, which is NE of K.C. We go down a couple of times a year to visit, but it's been a long time since I've been to K.C.

  15. Yeah, I too liked the book, not for the whole of it but in most part, especially the way she ended it. There is something charming about it, especially the melancholic setting that sets the tone from the beginning. Jhumpa Lahiri has not allowed the flattening of it to prolong, before it could send away the reader she has set about drawing the curtain. The suddenness of its denouement rather reinforces its symbolic treatment of an otherwise banal plot.

    Oh yes, I've tried a 1000-word review of it, for whatever it's worth, and posted on my blog.




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