Some books have been on my to-read list and my physical bookshelf for so long I don’t even know what prompted me to pick them up in the first place. This is one of them.
The Namesake, published in 2003, is the first novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian-American author who had already won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies, which I now have to add to my ever-growing to-read list.
If you follow my literary adventures, then it will not come as a surprise to you that yet again this novel explores the emotional themes of the immigrant experience. The angst of assimilation, the clash between generations, the conflict of cultures, and the befuddlement of identity.
Our protagonist is afflicted by a name that he cannot escape. Gogol Ganguli, neither Indian-sounding, nor American-sounding, like many children of immigrants, cannot quite be comfortable in his world.
Of course, I relate to his cultural confusion which makes the novel for the most part enjoyable.Though it’s about a Bengali family in America, many of the conflicts are true, I daresay, for immigrants from other areas of the world.
I particularly like the role food plays in the novel. That his mother Ashima, is driven to make Bengali food out of American substitutes. That the few Bengali that are around find each other and bond over food. That young Gogol rather eat sandwiches like the kids at school. My favourite is when he dines with the parents of his upscale white American Manhattan girlfriend who have a bottle of wine paired with their meal and carefully think out each course that fills you up just so. This juxtuposed to the usual Bengali spread of a mismatch of meals of all courses so plentiful that when you are full, there is still enough to last the whole week. Yep! Know that well.
I also felt an understanding of Moushumi, also Indian-American, but born in England, who wants none of it and escapes to a third culture – France – which she welcomes wholeheartedly.
I will admit that I did not like how the novel was going when their parents encouraged Moushumi and Gogol to meet therefore the ending of their story redeemed some points. I know, what a miserable hater I must be.
In any case, I found the novel to be very real and very engaging, and I may one day, bring myself to watch the movie.