The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Reviewed by Renée Bosman, Reference Librarian for Government and Public Affairs and Reference Collection Coordinator
In her first novel, Jhumpa Lahiri addresses themes of cultural identity and the immigrant experience with a quiet grace. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli are Bengali immigrants living near Boston with their American-born children Sonia and Gogol, the namesake of the title. The novel follows Gogol Ganguli from birth through early adulthood as he struggles with his identity, embodied by an Indian surname, a Russian pet name that was never meant to be his first name, and his desire to be an average American boy. Gogol tries to distance himself from the Bengali immigrant community to which his parents remain tied by changing his name and traveling first to Yale and then to New York, where he works as an architect and dates Maxine, a woman whose upbringing and lifestyle is vastly different from his own. He appears content, yet the question of identity continues to haunt him – “he is conscious of the fact that his immersion in Maxine’s family is a betrayal of his own” – and throughout the entire novel Gogol searches for a place where he can truly belong.
Lahiri is a master at conveying so much in the small details and infusing her seemingly ordinary characters with depth and warmth. After reading the novel, check out the critically-acclaimed movie directed by Mira Nair.