The Namesake: a review

You will not understand this book unless you've lived away from home sometime. You will never catch the little nuances of the story or the vast hollows in the hearts of the characters if you haven't lived alone, faced the world in all its wilderness all by yourself. You must have felt the need to find your roots, reminisce about your near and dear ones, missed them for the simple comfort and warmth of their welcoming smiles to be able to feel the theme of this book, The Namesake.

The story traces the life of a child born to Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, who migrated to the USA when Ashoke came there to pursue his doctoral degree and post-doctoral faculty work. Through a quirk of fate, the name Gogol which they had originally thought of as a pet name for their son sticks with him for life. We see the life of this immigrant family through the eyes of their son as he grows up. Somehow the confusion of his name points to a more fundamental identity crisis in his generation. He never understands why he has to make the ritual trips to Calcutta, why the terms 'fun' and 'party' for his parents mean a cackling lot of other Bengali families converging bag and baggage in a small place and endlessly discussing nonsense. He grows up in a culture that seems phoney to him, thrust upon him just because he was born to such and such parents, and something that he comes to hate as the shackles of his freedom in the land of opportunity. Jhumpa Lahiri spins a masterpiece as the tale of Gogol or Nikhil Ganguli unfolds, along with the gradual trace of Ashoke and Ashima's metamophosis into old age.

The most poignant moment in the entire book is perhaps when Ashoke explains to his son how and why he had been named Gogol: what that name reminded him of. Through the turmoils of Gogol's romantic life, even as he discovers his friends and freedom in being with his American girlfriend, there is a haunting theme in the book that makes you want to sit quietly and read and ponder over it. Suddenly you will discover your own emotions taking shape in the words of those pages, and let out a silent prayer for those in whom you've seen the exact feelings and characters replicated in real life. Suddenly, like a flash of light that clears all darkness, you will find that it all makes sense: that you understand why or what is happening.

Somehow, I felt that I had extracted all of the juice in that book by virtue of being a Bengali, a graduate student in the US and being someone who has lived away from home for close to 14 long years now. I could feel the connection with almost every emotion that Gogol felt, I felt the silence and simplicity of Ashoke, and perhaps a little of the passionate heartthrob of Ashima. After finishing the book, I was suddenly happy and sad, perhaps a bit scared at the same time. I was happy that I had a place that I called home, I was happy that there were some people on earth who would welcome me with open arms and a warm smile whenever I went to them. I was sad because I suddenly realised (or was reminded of) what I have missed all these years. And I was scared, because I know not what the future holds for me. I had called home after I finished the book: just to hear their voices, just to hear my mother repeating her endless questionnaire about my well being. I would unconditionally recommend this book to anyone who has at some time wondered about the words family, roots and life.


  1. I loved Lahari's narration. Slick, tense and crafty. And so real.

  2. I've read that book and found Ashima's character hard-hitting..she's strong,sensible and comprimises on her emotions and loneliness for the sake of her family..the most touching part about the book was how she received telegrams one after the other informing her the death of her loved ones with nobody to fall back on around and being a woman at the same time.She had the perfect blend of traits which only an indian woman can imbibe in herself.-Ms NMA

  3. I read this book a couple of years back, and since then I have held it as one of my favorite books ever. The best part is the smallest of nuances which Lahiri bought about so beautifully - the book was so full of them. I am looking forward to the movie as well.

    If you loved this book, you must read this short story - similar settings, by Lahiri herself. Again a very beautiful story:


    PS: Excellent review!

  4. i read this book a couple of years back, was waiting for it actually for a while since i had read lahiri's interpreter of maladies and liked her writing style, keen observation and that bengali taste that she brought out so beautifully in all her stories.

    the story gripped me from the first paragraph- i vividly remember it as ashima's introductory paragraph when she is pregnant and searching for something specific to eat. very sweet, very believable, very personal.

    i liked the way she gave flesh to her main characters- gogol and ashima, both vulnerable in their own ways. i'm sure just like you identified with the book for your own reason and bcoz of your own situation, i'm sure there would be many women out there who conmpletely identify with ashima's situation- fresh from india, newly married to a nerd type and very very far away in a strange country.

    whoops that was by far the longest comment in your blogs history i think, sorry for hogging all this space! :)

  5. Sajid, it is Lahiri, not Lahari. Something like "Koi sheheri babu"?

    Thanks anyway :)

    Miss NMA, well, yes, Ashima's character perhaps appeals more to you because you understand her emotions better. Not sure about that "only an Indian woman" part, though: her situation may have been unique, but I guess the qualities are more a result of personal character than anything else

    Supremus, you are right: the way the subtle nuances peep out of the pages is really good. Thanks for the link: will read that for sure.

    Life lover, well said: everything was very believable and very personal. Well, you are right: girls will perhaps find it easier to identify with Ashima. And don't worry about the length of the comment. A long comment is always endearing :) Besides, it is free space!

  6. I read this 2 years back & loved it:-) So simple & interesting..

  7. Ajit, thanks, really! :) Will visit your place now.

    Mommyof2, I'm glad you liked it. Wasn't it great?

  8. Though I haven't read this book, it reminds of my good friend who wants to change her name as she prefers.

    You seem to be very emotional after completing this book.

  9. Manasa, Yeah I was very touched after reading the book. And do read it if you find time --- it is great

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  13. Palani, what exactly are you referring to by 'this'?


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