Review: The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

The hubbub over Lahiri’s new novel reminded me that I’d filed away her earlier success, The Namesake, on my mental list of books to read so I snapped it up on a recent trip to the library.

I liked it well enough but found the story of first-generation American Gogol Ganguli and his Indian parents ultimately a tad depressing. The story concerns Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli as they adapt to life in their adopted country and as parents of children who are more American than Indian. Their son Gogol feels the burden of his heritage and his name (he’s named after Russian author Nikolai Gogol). As Gogol grows to adulthood and charts a rocky course through a series of relationships, Lahiri relates the intertwining narratives of parents and child with compassion and a rich attention to detail.

I enjoyed this glimpse into the Indian-American experience and found the characters genuine and believable. The prose is straightforward and uncomplicated. I read the episodic Ganguli family tale with a growing interest in what happened to these characters. However, when it came full circle, I finished the book feeling oddly saddened by where we leave Gogol. On the other hand, perhaps that’s testament to Lahiri’s storytelling.

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