It’s been a while since I posted anything, and for my six dedicated followers, I apologize. I’ve been obsessively reading Harry Potter, and we all know how I feel about them, so there’s no need to write about it. But I took a break from Harry to read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri for my book club, so I’m writing about that today.
For some reason, the books chosen for book club are always gloomy. Once again, in this novel, there seems to be a pall over the entire story. It is the story of the Gangulis, a couple married through an arrangement, who move to America from India. They have two children, and Gogol, their eldest, becomes the closest thing to a protagonist that the story has. His entire life he is plagued by the unfortunate mistake his parents made in naming him: while waiting for a “good” name from his grandmother in India, they give him the pet name “Gogol,” but the grandmother has a stroke and is unable to name him. He therefore remains Gogol, and does not come to understand how significant this name is to his father until he becomes a teenager and is already so full of resentment towards his name that he doesn’t care.
The New York Times called this novel “an intimate…closely-observed family portrait,” and it is indeed that. Contrary to many of the novels I’ve been reading lately, there is no adventure or suspense in the book. It is a story that merely follows the every day events of a family. Nothing that happens in the novel is something that couldn’t happen to anyone else in America. Because of this, I could honestly not figure out why I was so engrossed in the novel. The most logical reason I can think of is that I was able to watch (so to speak) all the drama unfold to an imaginary family–a family not mine, nor belonging to anyone else. Knowing that no one but a character on a page was suffering allowed me to enjoy the juiciness of drama without the guilt.
Lahiri has a knack for portraying life in the most heartbreakingly real manner possible. What really makes the reader think is Gogol’s preoccupation with his name. What is it about a name that has the power to alter our lives? Names have meaning–something Americans seem to have forgotten, or take as a novelty–and a child’s name, Lahiri seems to suggest at least, has the ability to influence his entire life.
Another enjoyable thing about the novel is the insights into Indian culture, and the difficulty experienced by immigrants in integrating into American society and life. As with so many great works of fiction, this novel forces the reader to contemplate things outside their realm of experience–a trait which I admire and enjoy. Overall, I’d say that if you enjoy an easy-to-follow which nevertheless offers a challenge to your mind, then read the book. If you’re looking for something quick and painless, choose another title.