Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Since I was on vacation, I got to read a lot, which I really, really enjoyed. I bought The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri at the bookstore a few weeks ago. It's a book I've been meaning to read for a long time and it came highly recommended by some friends of mine. This novel was also made into a movie by the same name directed by Mira Nair. I actually dragged Alex to the movie a couple years ago, dying to see what Mira Nair had done. I adored the movie and have been meaning to read the book ever since. It did not disappoint. Lahiri has a style of writing all her own. Soothing and calm, heartbreaking and truthful, observant and touching. This book follows the Ganguli family, a first generation Indian-American family as they start a family and go on to live in the Boston area, raising children and making an "American" life. The novel begins with the Ashoke and Ashima meeting and how their arranged marriage came about. It follows the struggles of Ashima to assimilate into American culture and to learn how to do things so far from their families in India. Ashima has two children, Gogol and Sonia. The Namesake essentially follows the life of Gogol, named for his father's favorite author and a tragic accident he was in at a young age. From the beginning, Lahiri shows the struggles a first generation family would face here in the US. Customs for raising children, schooling, dating, everything, are so different here than in India. Ashoke and Ashima seem to do very well watching their children grow in such a different world. But Gogol is constantly troubled by things: his name, his heritage, his parents' understanding of American culture or the English language. Everything pains him, so much so, that he ends up rejecting much of the Indian culture and identity given to him by his parents. Only as he gets older does he realize how important his family is to him and how much he needs them in his life. He begins to realize the sacrifices his parents made for him and the distances they traveled to give him a better life that they had back in India. This story is one of family, of father-son relations, and also one about growing up and realizing how much your parenst have sacrificed for your well-being. It's a beautifully written novel, enchanting, truthful, engaging, and harsh.