Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Namesake

Rate this book
Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the very few debut works -- and only a handful of collections -- to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the many other awards and honors it received were the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the highest critical praise for its grace, acuity, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America.

In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail — the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase — that opens whole worlds of emotion.

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

291 pages, Paperback

First published September 16, 2003

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Jhumpa Lahiri

89 books13.5k followers
Nilanjana Sudeshna "Jhumpa" Lahiri was born in London and brought up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. Brought up in America by a mother who wanted to raise her children to be Indian, she learned about her Bengali heritage from an early age.

Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School and later received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989. She then received multiple degrees from Boston University: an M.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She took up a fellowship at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center, which lasted for the next two years (1997-1998).

In 2001, she married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who was then Deputy Editor of TIME Latin America Lahiri currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. She has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center since 2005.

Lahiri taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Much of her short fiction concerns the lives of Indian-Americans, particularly Bengalis.

She received the following awards, among others:
1999 - PEN/Hemingway Award (Best Fiction Debut of the Year) for Interpreter of Maladies;
2000 - The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year for Interpreter of Maladies;
2000 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut Interpreter of Maladies

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
89,579 (33%)
4 stars
112,099 (41%)
3 stars
54,928 (20%)
2 stars
11,219 (4%)
1 star
2,824 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 15,010 reviews
Profile Image for Anna.
97 reviews79 followers
December 4, 2013
After finishing the Namesake, my thoughts were drawn to my last roommate in college, an Indian woman studying for her PHD in Psychology. When I first moved in, she had just broken up with her white boyfriend. “It never would have worked out anyway…” she had cried. By the end of that same year she was flying of to Houston to be wed to a man she had only seen once, a marriage arranged by their parents. Many nights my other roommate (an exchange student from Berlin) and I would sit out on the balcony smoking cigarettes and marveling at the concept of an arranged marriage in the new millennium. This book made me understand her a little bit better, her choice in marriage and other aspects of our briefly shared lives, like: her putting palm oil in her hair, the massive Dutch oven that was constantly blowing steam, or her mother living with us for 3 months.
This is after all the story of an Indian growing up American and the cultural adaptations and clashes that color his life. Perspective shifting from parent to child and back again, it’s an engaging view of an immigrant family in America. Gogol hates his name, and the Bengali traditions that are forced on him since childhood. The reader follows him through adolescence into adulthood where his history and his family affect his relationships with women more than anything else.
As much as this book was heralded for its exploration of the immigrant experience, as any truly great piece of literature, its lessons are universal... Anyone who has ever been ashamed of their parents, felt the guilty pull of duty, questioned their own identity, or fallen in love, will identify with these intermingling lives. The pace in which she tells it is exactly equal to looking back on the memories of a life lived. Skimming over the mundane, she punctuates the cherished memories and life changing events that are now somewhat hazy.
It is a superb first novel.
Profile Image for Brina.
1,037 reviews4 followers
February 21, 2017
In 2000, Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for her story collection Interpreter of Maladies, becoming the first Indian to win the award. In the last story, an engineering graduate student arrives in Cambridge from Calcutta, starting a life in a new country. This story is the basis for The Namesake, Lahiri's first full length novel where she weaves together elements from her own life to paint a picture of the Indian immigrant experience in the United States.

Ashoke and Ashmina Ganguli, recently wed in an arranged marriage, have immigrated to Boston from Calcutta so that Ashoke can pursue a PhD in engineering. A world away from their Bengali family and friends and in the days before the Internet, their only means of communication was aero grams. Ashmina is immediately homesick for India so she founds a network of Bengalis up and down the east coast, preserving traditions and creating a pseudo-family in her new country. With her husband learning and teaching, these friends are a reminder of home for her, and, as a result, she never fully assimilates into American society.

Within the first year of the Gangulis arrival, Ashmina becomes pregnant with the couple's first child. Adhering to Bengali tradition, Ashmina's grandmother is supposed to name the baby, but her letter never arrives. Ashoke contemplates and comes up with the only name he can think of: Gogol, after the Russian writer, whose volume of short stories saved his life during a fatal train derailment in India. Both Ashoke and Ashmina desire that Gogol have a Bengali life in America despite being one of few Indian families in their area.

Gogol and his younger sister Sonali grow up fully assimilated as Americans. They barely speak Bengali and only once in awhile crave Indian food. Both choose career paths that are not traditionally Indian so that they have little contact with the Bengali culture that their parents fought so hard to preserve. Lahiri even creates a character based on her own immigrant experiences who desires an identity different than Bengali or American and seeks a doctorate in French literature. Based in Brooklyn and Paris, this woman resembles Lahiri as she learned to speak Italian and lived in Rome for a number of years. Lahiri and her character sought to remake themselves in order to distance themselves from the Bengali culture that their parents forced upon them as children.

As in Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri paints a rich picture of the Indian immigrant experience in the United States. Using short sentences with rich prose, the story moves quickly as we follow the Ganguli family for thirty five years of their lives. Being an immigrant turns into a unique experience for each character, yet the story centers around Gogol as he moves from Indian American child to American Indian adult. With a novel rich in subplots and provocative issues of the day, Jhumpa Lahiri is quickly becoming a leading voice in literary fiction and a favorite author of mine. I look forward to the other rich novels that Lahiri has in store, and rate The Namesake 4.5 bright stars.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,433 reviews974 followers
December 17, 2015
Look. I admit it. I read for escapist purposes. Specifically, I read to experience a viewpoint that I would never have encountered otherwise. I read to escape the boundaries of my own limited scope, to discover a new life by looking through lenses of all shades, shapes, weirds, wonders, everything humanity has been allotted to senses both defined and not, conveyed by the best of a single mortal's abilities within the span of a fragile stack printed with oh so water damageable ink.

I do not read to have my reality handed back to me on more mundane terms than I myself could create on two hours of sleep and a monstrosity of a hangover.

The good things about this book? It's readable. Very readable. Very punctual use of commas, and paragraph indentations, and general story flow. And by reading it from cover to cover, I have discovered a pet peeve of mine that I hadn't realized I had been liable to, but now fully acknowledge as part and parcel of my readerly sensibilities. Fortunate for me, not so fortunate for the book.

Show, not tell. Perhaps you've heard the phrase, over and over and over to a nauseatingly horrific extent without any additional information as to how exactly to go about accomplishing this mantra. There's a multitude of reasons for following this niftily short doctrine, and one of them is fully encompassed by this novel here, with its unholy engorgement on lists.

If a scene pops up, lists of the surroundings. If an action is participated in, lists of all the objects involved, with as prolific a number of brand names as possible. If a character is introduced, well, the only way to go about it is to list of their clothing, their rote physical attributes, their major, their job, their personal history as far as is encompassed by a résumé or Facebook page. Minimal amounts of creative flights, barely a metaphor in sight, and as for deeply resonant emotional delving into the personas meandering the page, down to the very blood and bones of their recognizable humanity? Nadda. I wish I was joking when I said that, had Lahiri not been allowed to pad her story with all these long strings of descriptive sentences that were nothing more than another entry in the same old, same old, you'd be left with fifty pages. If that. The end result was a feeling of being able to read this story quickly, yes, but through a thick layer of cellophane that left in its wake singular feelings of why am I bothering and its good old pal, am I supposed to care?

There's another piece of terminology that writing classes love to throw around in addition to that previous standard, and that's voice. If there was a voice in this novel, it was drowned by the endless streams of banal information attached to every inch of the plot's surface, leaving me with the slightly ill sense of watching the consumerism train wreck of typical American society without any reassurance that the author knew what they were doing. Also, the almost constant adherence to stereotypes of Indians who immigrate to America as the engineering->Ivy League->repeat, along with every other gender/familial/socioeconomic stereotype known to humanity? Considering the fact that one of my biggest reasons for reading as much as I do is to find a breakdown of these popular culture standards, I was rather disappointed. Scratch that, I was very disappointed, enough to muse on whether this book, published all of nine years ago, had helped propagate those stereotypes in the first place. Dark thoughts indeed.

Finally, the literature title dropping. I suppose I should've expected it, what with the main character's name issues taking up the entirety of the novel's effort when it came to both theme and its own title, but by the end of it I was sick of seeing all those highflown phrases without a single scrip of fictional push on the author's part to live up to these influences. Borrow a few methods of making your prose fly off the page in a churning maelstrom of creating your own beautiful song out of the best the written word has to offer? Fine, dandy, go forth and prosper. Shoving in 'The Man Without Qualities' and Proust within the last few pages in some obtuse attempt to impress those who are in the know? Hipster, and I mean that with a vengeance.

So, simply put, if you're looking to recommend me South Asian literature, please oh please grant me a work along the lines of The God of Small Things. Cultural intersection between self and others without relying on the obvious and the physical objects? Check. Characters that broke my heart over and over with their joy and their sorrow that I wish I could follow forevermore? Check. Voice? Just. You'd have to read it. It even has a literature reference, albeit in a way that pays full tribute to the work far beyond the facile typing of its signifying phrase and nothing more.

This? Not so much.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews149 followers
November 20, 2021
The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake (2003) is the first novel by American author Jhumpa Lahiri.

It was originally a novel published in The New Yorker and was later expanded to a full-length novel.

It explores many of the same emotional and cultural themes as her Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Interpreter of Maladies.

Moving between events in Calcutta, Boston, and New York City, the novel examines the nuances involved with being caught between two conflicting cultures with highly distinct religious, social, and ideological differences.

The novel describes the struggles and hardships of a Bengali couple who immigrate to the United States to form a life outside of everything they are accustomed to.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز ششم ماه نوامبر سال2014میلادی

عنوان: همنام؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ مترجم: گیتا گرکانی؛ تهران، نشر علم، سال1383، در384ص، شابک9644053737؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان هندی تبار ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده21م

عنوان: همنام؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ مترجم: امیرمهدی حقیقت؛ تهران، ماهی، سال1383، در360ص؛ چاپ دوم سال1384؛ چاپ سوم سال1385، چاپ پنجم سال1393؛

عنوان: همنام؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ مترجم: فریده اشرفی؛ تهران، مروارید، سال1383، در386ص؛ چاپ دوم سال1384؛

عنوان: همنام؛ نویسنده: جومپا لاهیری؛ مترجم: زهره خلیلی؛ تهران، قطره، سال1386، در425ص؛ شابک9789643415921؛

همنام، نخستین رمان «جومپا لاهیری» است؛ ایشان «همنام» را، نخست به‌ صورت داستانی بلند، در مجله‌ ی «نیویورکر»، منتشر کردند؛ و سپس در سال2004میلادی، طرح آن را گسترش دادند، و به صورت یک رمان درآورند؛ «همنام» نیز، همانند مجموعه‌ داستان «مترجم دردها»، از همین نویسنده، به مشکلات فرهنگی «هندی‌»ها، در دنیای مدرن می‌پردازد؛ «لاهیری» در این رمان، مشکلات و دشواری‌های زندگی زوجی «بنگالی» را، بازگو می‌کند؛ که به «آمریکا» مهاجرت کرده‌ اند؛ این زوج در «آمریکا»، با سبکی از زندگی مواجه می‌شوند، که تفاوت بسیاری با نوع زندگی آنها دارد، و برایشان نامأنوس است

نمونه هایی از متن: («اسم خودمانی به آدم یادآوری میکند، که زندگی، همیشه آنقدرها جدی و رسمی، و پیچیده نبوده، و نیست؛ به جز این، گوشزد میکند که همه ی مردم، یکجور به آدم نگاه نمیکنند»؛

یک متکا و پتو بردار و دنیا را تا آنجا که میتوانی، ببین؛ از اینکار پیشمان نخواهی شد

آشوک گفت: «پدربزرگم میگه این دلیل وجود کتابهاست، سفر کردن است بدون حتی یک اینچ جابجا شدن)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 28/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 28/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Nataliya.
855 reviews14.2k followers
May 30, 2012
Jhumpa Lahiri's excellent mastery and command of language are amazing. She writes so effortlessly and enchantingly, in such a captivating manner and yet so matter-of-factly that her writing completely enthralls me. Just look at one of my favorite passages - so simple and beautiful:
"Try to remember it always," he said once Gogol had reached him, leading him slowly back across the breakwater, to where his mother and Sonia stood waiting. "Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go."
No wonder it took me quite a few days after finishing this book to finally surface from under the charm of her language before I was able to figure out what exactly kept nagging me about The Namesake.

You see, The Namesake flows so well that it almost easy to overlook the weak plot development and the unfortunate wasting of so much potential that this story could have had. After finishing it, I had the pleasant 'warm & fuzzy' nostalgic feeling - and yet almost immediately the narrative itself began to fade in my mind, and it became hard to remember what exactly happened over the three hundred pages.

In a nutshell, this is a story about the immigrant experience. Ashoke and Ashima are first-generation immigrants to the US from India, and they do not have the easiest time adjusting to the peculiarities of their new home and its culture. Gogol, the protagonist, is their son who is tasked with living the double life, so to speak - fitting in with the culture of his parents as well as the culture of his family's new country. Simultaneously experiencing two cultures is not always easy, and this is the main theme of this book. And these were the bits of the story that I could relate to in a way, being a first-generation immigrant myself.
"For being a foreigner Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy -- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been an ordinary life, only to discover that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity of from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect."

The Namesake is titled so because Gogol is named after a famous Russian writer Nikolai Gogol (the reason I picked up this book, by the way. Nikolai Gogol is a great writer). Famous namesake or not, young Gogol dislikes his unusual moniker quite a bit. This is a set-up for the conflict, which, unfortunately, I felt was quite underdeveloped.

You see, Lahiri takes a subtle approach without the need to hit the reader over the head with her message. The story she tells is lifelike - calm, subdued, without extra glamour added to it, without every set-up resulting in a major conflict. But I feel that this subtlety quite often crosses the line into the lull of dullness. The story becomes almost like a diary - with much everyday filler, many simple events, many instances of telling and not showing, and not enough payoff - at least for me. Apparently I love quick gratifications, and this book did not deliver those.

I want to reiterate that my issues with this book were very easy (even for me) to initially disregard because of the beauty and near perfection of Lahiri writing style which makes up for many flaws. But ultimately I felt unsatisfied with the story, and therefore I can only give it 3.5 stars. That said, I already bought two other books by Lahiri and will definitely read them. She seems to be a brilliant writer, and maybe will prove to be a better storyteller in her other works.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,121 reviews7,548 followers
April 30, 2023
[Edited 4/30/23]
People between two worlds is the theme, as in many of the author’s books: Bengali immigrants in Boston and how they juggle the complexity of two cultures.

Mainly we follow the coming-of-age story of a young man named Gogol Ganguli. His father gave him that first name because he had a traumatic event in his life during which he met a man who had told him about the Russian author Nikolai Gogol. The father survived the event and later became a fan of the author. (This book inspired me to read or re-read some of Gogol’s classic short stories including The Overcoat and The Nose.)


The story starts in 1968 and the author uses American events as markers of time. They travel back to India to visit relatives infrequently, but when they do, it’s for extended periods – 6 or 8 months, so he and his sister have to go to school in India and they get a real dose of Bengali culture.

One of the best examples of the cultural chasm between the two groups is shown around social gatherings. There was a time when Gogol lived in New York, living a life on the cocktail circuit, four or five couples sitting around the table chatting about art and politics and whatever, drinking fine wine.

Gogol is aware of how thoroughly out-of-place and lost his parents would be in this scene above. Social gatherings at his parents’ suburban house when he grew up were day-long weekend events with a dozen Bengali families and their children eating in shifts at multiple tables. His parents acted as caterers seeing to the needs of all the guests while the children ate separately and played, older ones watching the younger ones.

These Bengali folks are not stereotypical immigrants who are maids and quick-shop clerks living in a crowded ‘Bengali neighborhood.’ They were college educated before their arrival in the US, they all speak English, and they are engineers, doctors and professors (as is Gogol’s father) now living in upscale suburban Boston homes. His mother and father did live for a time in inner-city Boston (in a three-decker tenement like I grew up in).

I think it’s realistic how this young American Bengali boy sometimes absorbs and sometimes rebels against the culture. He and his friends joke about themselves as “ABCD - American Born Confused Deshi.” He and his parents and sister speak Bengali at home but he makes a point of doing things like answering his parents in English and wearing his sneakers in the house. He pulls away from his Bengali heritage at college, deliberately ‘not hanging out with Indians.’

We get glimpses of how the cultural differences affect his parents too. It’s not until she is 47 that his stay-at-home mother makes her real first non-Indian friends, working part-time at the local library.

There isn't an elaborate plot other than that life happens. We touch base with Gogol going to college (Yale), having his first romantic and then sexual experiences, breaking up, getting a job. When Gogol goes to Yale it's 1982, so we learn about his first adventures with girls, alcohol and pot.

He has to start from scratch with women because he has never seen expressions of affection between his parents, not even a touch. As he drifts from woman to woman his mother is always urging him to go to dinner with this or that daughter of Bengali friends that he knew as a little kid running around in the backyard. He's still 'coming of age' when he is 27 and he's still searching for how he fits in between the two cultures.

I'm impressed with how thoroughly the author sticks to the name theme of the title all through the book. His name keeps coming up throughout his life as an integral part of his identity. Lahiri is also a master at describing how people meet, fall in love, or enter into a relationship, and then drift apart.

There's a lot of local color of Boston including things I remember from the old days like the Boston Globe newspaper, the ‘girls on the Boston Common,’ name brands like Hood milk, Jordan Marsh and Filene’s Basement.


The Namesake has displaced Interpreter of Maladies as Lahiri’s most popular book even though Interpreter won the Pulitzer prize. I have also read her two other most-read books, both of which are collections of short stories or vignettes: Unaccustomed Earth and Whereabouts. The author’s parents immigrated from Bengal and she grew up near Boston, where her father worked at the University of Rhode Island.

Top photo of Bengali students at Harvard by Shifa Hossain from mittalsouthasiainstitute.harvard.edu
The author receiving the National Humanities medal from Barack Obama from economictimes.indiatimes.com
Profile Image for Candi.
655 reviews4,978 followers
August 16, 2016
"He hates that his name is both absurd and obscure, that it has nothing to do with who he is, that it is neither Indian nor American but of all things Russian. He hates having to live with it, with a pet name turned good name, day after day, second after second… At times his name, an entity shapeless and weightless, manages nevertheless to distress him physically, like the scratchy tag of a shirt he has been forced permanently to wear."

Although on the surface, it appears that Gogol Ganguli’s torment in life is due to a name that he despises, a name that doesn’t make any sense to him, the true struggle is one of identity and belonging. Jhumpa Lahiri crafts a novel full of introspection and quiet emotion as she tells the story of the immigrant experience of one Bengali family, the Gangulis. Following an arranged marriage, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli move to America to begin a new life in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While Ashoke has the distraction of a professional career, Ashima feels lost and adrift without family, friends, and the comfort of familiar surroundings. In fact, Ashima will spend decades trying to make a life for herself, trying to fit into a culture that is so alien to the one she has left behind. Upon the birth of her first child, Ashima feels so utterly alone without family by her side to support her and welcome this new baby. "As she strokes and suckles and studies her son, she can’t help but pity him. She has never known of a person entering the world so alone, so deprived." Thus begins Gogol’s life and his pursuit towards understanding and establishing his own identity as a first generation American born to Indian immigrants.

Named after Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, our developing protagonist will scorn not only his name but also his parent’s traditions, their quiet ways, their trips to Calcutta to visit family, and their “adopted” Bengali family in America – those friends with similar immigrant experiences to their own. Instead, he yearns to shed his namesake, one that holds special significance in his father’s life for reasons that have yet to be revealed to Gogol himself. I have to wonder if Gogol had earlier learned the extraordinary meaning of this name to his father’s own personal experience, then perhaps Gogol’s approach towards life would have been different. But, in a sense this is a coming of age story for Gogol and perhaps the timing would not have mattered so much as his own maturing and growth. We see Gogol and his sister Sonia embracing American ways – eating Thanksgiving turkeys, preparing for Santa Claus, and coloring Easter eggs – while Ashoke and Ashima continue to expose them to the Bengali customs and celebrations. Once Gogol sets off for college, he attempts to leave behind much of his parent’s influence as well as his name. But in changing a name can a young man really erase his heritage and begin a life ignoring the expectations of his parents, the imprint of their culture? Isn’t this a part of him, just as much as are the American ways and customs? Does he truly need to put aside one way of life in order to find complete happiness in another? Through a series of relationships and life events, Gogol does transform over time, or so I believe, but not without his share of trials and heartache.

Jhumpa Lahiri has a gift for penetrating the psyche of each of her characters. It seems there is always something a reader can relate to in each of them, in one way or another – whether likeable or not. Each character is flawed just as every human being is imperfect. I don’t think that one needs to understand the immigrant experience to connect with this book. The Namesake is completely relatable to anyone that has ever strived to fit in, to find an identity, to accept those around us for what they are, not what we think they should be.

"Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end."
Profile Image for Jibran.
225 reviews685 followers
August 25, 2018
Book subtitle: I will write down everything I know about a certain family of Bengali immigrants in the United States by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Immigrant anguish - the toll it takes in settling in an alien country after having bidden adieu to one’s home, family, and culture is what this prize-winning novel is supposed to explore, but it's no more than a superficial complaint about a few signature – and done to death - South Asian issues relating to marriage and paternal expectations: a clichéd immigrant story, I'm afraid to say.

Gogol’s life, and that of every person related to him in any way, from the day of his birth to his divorce at 30, is documented in a long monotone, like a camera trained on a still scene, without zooming in and out, recording every movement the lens catches, accidentally. A final picture emerges in which nothing in particular stands out; and twists that could have been explored more deeply, on a philosophical and humanistic level, such as Gogol’s disillusionment with his dual identity or the aftermath of (Gogol’s father) Ashoke’s death are touched upon perfunctorily or rushed through.

Some cultural comparisons are made as though to validate the enlightened United States at the cost of backward India. This is a familiar line in immigrant success stories: to justify their decision to migrate to the West by heaping scorn on the country or culture of their origin.

But even that's not done intelligently. E.g; Maxine’s mother wears swimsuit on the lakeside; Gogol thinks his mother would never do that. Maxine’s parents don’t bother when Gogol moves into their house and have sex with Maxine; Gogol's parents would have been horrified! It is almost in these words the comparisons are made. Well, of course. We get it.

However, on the bright side, I liked the trope of public vs private names – Nikhil aka Gogol - and how Lahiri relates this private, accidental double-naming to the protagonist's larger identity crisis as an American of Indian background. But this is also wasted and in the end you are left with a lot of impatience welling up inside you.

February 2015
October 17, 2020

Il problema per il protagonista di questo primo romanzo (2003) di Jhumpa Lahiri, che aveva già alle spalle un prestigioso Pulitzer (2000) per la raccolta di racconti Interpreter of Maladies, il problema comincia alla nascita: nel momento in cui suo padre gli impone il nome di Gogol, omonimo dello scrittore russo.
E da qui, perciò, il destino nel nome (che è il titolo italiano del film del 2006 diretto da Mira Nair basato su questo romanzo).

Ashoke sta leggendo “Il cappotto” di Gogol quando il treno deraglia: saranno proprio le pagine sparse di quel libro illuminate dalle torce dei soccorritori che lo fanno ritrovare nelle lamiere accartocciate del vagone ed essere salvato.
Anni dopo Ashoke emigra negli Stati Uniti. E quando gli nasce il primo figlio, gli sembra giusto e naturale chiamarlo come lo scrittore russo che gli ha salvato la vita: Gogol.

Il figlio, però, non apprezza e non capisce la scelta, anche perché sarà necessario parecchio tempo prima che ne scopra l’origine: suo padre custodisce il segreto. Un nome che è un cognome, e non è neppure indiano, gli crea problemi di socializzazione, attira sberleffi (per esempio, viene storpiato in Goggles, che sono gli occhialetti per la piscina – oppure in Giggles, cioè le risatine). Gli crea problemi d’identità: come l’essere indiano nato in America, né carne né pesce, un po’ di qua e un p’ di là, né tutto occidentale né completamente orientale. È troppo giovane per capire la ricchezza di questa condizione, e lascia vincere dentro di sé il senso di estraniamento, di esclusione, lo spaesamento.
Di conseguenza vive male i due viaggi all’anno che la famiglia, sorella Sonja inclusa, compie per andare a trovare i parenti rimasti in India. E anche se i giovani Gogol e Sonja parlano bene la lingua locale, non riescono però a scriverla, come invece sono capacissimi di fare in l’inglese.

Quando Gogol inizia l’università decide di cambiare nome e opta per Nikhil: il che appare un’ironia involontaria considerato che il nome di battesimo dello scrittore russo che ha fin qui perseguitato la sua vita è Nikolaj.
Non si può non intendere questa sua decisione come un tentativo di assumere una nuova identità e riscrivere la sua personale storia familiare.
Per reazione, Gogol si allontana dalla famiglia e dalle sue tradizioni.
Ma alla fine direi che il cerchio si chiude, e lo fa postivamente.

Essere stranieri è come una gravidanza che dura tutta la vita — un’attesa perenne, un fardello costante, una sensazione persistente di anomalia. È una responsabilità ininterrotta, una parentesi aperta in quella che era stata la vita normale, solo per scoprire che la vita precedente si è dissolta, sostituita da qualcosa di più complicato e impegnativo. Come la gravidanza, essere stranieri stimola la curiosità degli estranei, la stessa mescolanza di rispetto e compassione.

Ho trovato una riflessione dello scrittore Mimmo Starnone che ho voluto segnare: partendo dal titolo del debutto letterario della Lahiri, Starnone dice che lo scrittore è come un interprete di malanni. Un interprete media tra lingue diverse, è un lettore ben attrezzato che sa capire a fondo la complessità di un testo e dargli senso, è un esecutore fedele o estroso di una partitura. Di conseguenza, lo scrittore ha il compito di trovare le parole esatte ed efficaci per i mali di cui soffriamo.
Una bella definizione per chi si assegna il compito di raccontare.
E direi che Jhumpa Lahiri lo assolve bene, sa trovare le parole giuste per raccontare il malessere dei suoi personaggi, sia maschili che femminili.

Tutte le immagini sono dal film “The Namesake – Il destino nel nome” diretto da Mira Nair nel 2006.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
814 reviews
August 3, 2019
I read this book on several plane journeys and while hanging around several airports. I'm putting the emphasis on ‘several’ because it took me a long time to read it even though I was in a hurry to finish. I was in a hurry, not because it was a page turner but because I really needed to get to the end.
And although I read it in relatively few days I still read it very very slowly. There are a lot of words in this book.

I love words. I can read words quite happily for hours as long as they don't come encased in boring reports or long winded articles. I'd be very poor at reading detailed accounts of real life happenings for a court case or an insurance settlement, for example. I imagine my eyelids would droop and my attention would wander. I'm sure that in such a situation, I'd jump at any opportunity to do something else instead. So it was wise on my part to read this book on a journey, given that I was obliged to remain in my seat and do nothing other than read. It's well known that I can't do nothing, therefore I read this book to the end.

You’ll have gathered by now that I think of this book in terms of a report or a historical document, one in which the author felt duty bound to record every detail of the experiences of the people whose lives she had chosen to examine. They may be fictional characters but they sound like real people, and their stories sound like an accumulation of real data. All those trips to Calcutta - it seemed as if the reader gets a report of each and every one.

In literary fiction as opposed to report writing, it’s reasonable to expect that an author will have picked through the mass of facts they’ve accumulated, retaining only the best and then further selecting and polishing those best bits in such a way that the reader will admire and retain them in turn. On one or two occasions, Jhumpa Lahiri manages to extract an interesting gem from her accumulations - as when a bride-to-be tentatively places her foot in one of the shoes her future husband has left outside the door of the room where she is about to meet him for the first time. We are with the girl in that pause before she turns the handle on her new life. We see her try it for size.

That scene was short and perfect. Contrast it with this description of a character who enters the story for three pages and is never heard from again. Donald (I can’t even remember why he appears in the story now) is tall, wearing flip-flops and a paprika-colored shirt whose sleeves are rolled up to just above the elbows. He is handsome, with patrician features and swept-back, slightly greasy, light-brown hair.
What was the significance of the shirt colour, I wondered? Or him being tall, or his hair being greasy?

The book is full of metaphors that appear meaningful at first glance but then you say, wait a minute, what does that really mean? As, for example, when the main character and his father walk to the very end of a breakwater, and the father says: “Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere else to go.”
There had been a long lead-up to this line which ends a chapter. I wondered if I'd missed something significant that would have made the finish line amaze and impress me. But I couldn't bear to wade through the chapter again to find out.

The main premise of the book is in fact based on a metaphor: a mistake in the choosing of the principal character’s name comes to represent the identity problems which confront children born between cultures. In this case, the American requirement for a baby to be officially named before leaving hospital clashes with the Bengali practice of allowing the baby to remain unnamed until the matriarch of the family has decided on a name. Soon after his (very detailed) birth near the beginning of the book, the main character is temporarily named Gogol by his parents because the letter containing the name chosen for him by his Bengali great grandmother hasn't yet arrived in Boston. The father has picked the temporary name Gogol because he owes his life to the fact that he was sitting close to a window reading Gogol’s ‘The Overcoat’ when a train he was traveling on crashed, and therefore escaped. Since the letter from the grandmother never arrives, ‘Gogol’ becomes the main character’s official name and his love/hate relationship with it eventually comes to define his life.

The 'name' issue is interesting but it's a bit of a stretch on the author's part to make it the central framework for the entire saga. I tried hard to relate the story of ‘The Overcoat’ to the main character's life in an effort to understand everything better, but apart from wondering if his yearning for an ideal name could be compared to Akaki’s yearning for the perfect overcoat, I was lost.
This is a good moment to mention the utter seriousness of Lahiri’s writing. Considering the connections she painstakingly makes with Nikolai Gogol, the lack of humour in her writing stands out in complete contrast to the Russian author who not only knows how to extract the essence of a situation and present it in short form, but also how to do it with underlying humour.

I don't dismiss this book about the problems of assimilation and dual identity without asking myself if the relationship Lahiri seems to have with minutiae reveals something important in her writing. As the daughter of Bengali emigrants, I understand that she may feel a responsibility to write down the stories of people like her parents, people who arrived in the US as young emigrants and struggled to retain their own culture while trying to assimilate the new one. People who, once a spouse dies, must move between their relatives, resident everywhere and nowhere. That theme echoes two other books I read recently about exiles, Us & Them and Exit West, both of which led me to read The Namesake - I wanted to see how Lahiri dealt with similar issues. But while there are parallels between the three books, 'Us&Them' and 'Exit West' are beautifully pared back; the extraneous details have all been removed and we’re left, especially in the case of 'Us&Them', with exquisite literary cameos that are far more memorable than Lahiri’s lengthy if historically accurate scenarios.

I feel that Lahiri may have some awareness of her tendency to include too much information. She offers a kind of run-through of the themes in the last few pages as if her book had been a textbook and we students needed to have the central arguments summed up for us.
But alongside that awareness, I wanted Lahiri to impose some writing constraints on herself. I wanted her to consider how she would write if she had only a very limited vocabulary and the simplest of grammar structures at her disposal.

But she did exactly that, I hear you shout, she went to live in Italy for two years and forced herself to read and write only in Italian!

Coincidentally, I have the book that resulted from that journey though it had lain unread since I bought it some months ago. So I searched my book piles and found In Other Words and began to read it. It's a parallel text - her original Italian text plus a translator’s English version. Lahiri says at the beginning that she purposely avoided translating it herself because she feared she would alter it in the process, making it more elaborate….and longer!

She has a lot of interesting things to say about her own writing:
By writing in Italian I think I am escaping both my failures with regard to English and my success. Italian offered me a very different path. As a writer I can demolish myself, I can reconstruct myself…I am in Italian, a tougher, freer writer, who, taking root again, grows in a different way…My writing in Italian is a type of unsalted bread. It works, but the usual flavor is missing. On the other hand, I think that it does have a style, or at least a character. The language seems like a waterfall. I don't need every drop

And most interesting of all in the context of this (rather long-winded) review, she says:
I continue, as a writer, to seek the truth, but I don't give the same weight to factual truth...
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,846 reviews14.3k followers
July 21, 2016
Enjoyed reading about the Bengali culture, their traditions, envied their sense and closeness of family. Ashima and Ashoke, an arranged marriage, moving to the USA where Ashoke is an engineer, trying to learn a different way of life, different language, so very difficult. Ashima misses her family, and after giving birth to a son misses them even more. They name their son, Gogol, there is a reason for this name, a name he will come to disdain. Eventually the family meets other Bengalis and they become family substitutes, celebrate important cultural milestones together.

This novel gave me a new understanding of just how hard it is to assimilate into a new culture. The first half of the book I remained emotionally unconnected to the characters, felt it was more tell than show. This changed after a family tragedy which afforded an opportunity for the characters to change as well. Was impatient with Gogol and his failure to appreciate everything about his parents, his own culture but he grows within the story as does his mother. So I ended up appreciating this book quite a bit as a cultural story and a family story. Very glad I finally read it. Auto correct hates these names by the way, had to go back and change them three times already.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,066 reviews3,311 followers
April 4, 2019
Nice book on struggling with intercultural identities.

I stare and stare at that sentence. I can't believe that is all I have to say about this novel. After all, this is MY topic. This is my life. My profession. My passion. How do people fit into a dominant culture if their parents come from somewhere else? Which customs do they pick from which environment, and how do they adapt to form a crosscultural identity that works for them? How is their language affected by constant switching? Where - if at all - do they feel at home? Do they have benefits from living between two worlds, or is it a loss? All those things are contained in this Pulitzer-winning author's novel, and yet...

All I can say is: "It's nice."

And when I taught language at an international school, I used to tell students struggling with synonyms to avoid repetitive use of common adjectives:

"Nice is not a nice word. Find something more glorious!"
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,938 reviews3,042 followers
July 28, 2022
This book is just not about the name given to the main character.

The story is more than that.

I would say this book deals more with family and relationships rather than just what it has been promoted as.

This book definitely handled well the father-son relationship that is quite realistic in the Indian society. It's rather quite accurately described the way the father and the grown-up son trying to re-establish the father-son dynamic years after.

It also described well the life of the main character ever since he was conceived (yes, the story starts with the marriage of his parents. A good start I would say!)

You go on knowing more about the main character as he grows up, gets involved in relationships, him getting to get to know his origin (well, he struggles to know his Indian origin and identity but yes, struggle is the word).

The story also deals well in portraying how immigrants neither fit there (like belonging there and being accepted) where they live nor do they fit where their parents grew up. And well, that's where the writing shines!

This is one book which I get to know a character so well that he feels like he's one of my best friends who lives far away but someone I got to know well.

I love the writing. I love the character development. I love how the story maintained a flow that kept me hooked till the end. I love the romance as well.

However, I wasn't quite happy with the ending.

I think it's high time to reread this book.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 8 books244 followers
March 13, 2009
I liked the first 40 pages or so. I was very interested in the scenes in India and the way the characters perceived the U.S. after they moved. But soon I found myself losing interest. There were several problems. One is that Lahiri's novelistic style feels more like summary ("this happened, then this, then this") rather than a story I can experience through scenes. The voice was flat, and this was exacerbated by the fact that it's written in present tense. I never emotionally connected to these characters. I also got bored with the second half that focused on lots of rich, young New Yorkers sitting around drinking wine.

I haven't read her two story collections, but I've heard she's a phenomenal short story writer--so I'll definitely give those a try. Seems like some fantastic short story writers (like Aimee Bender and Alice Munro) are pressured to write novels when in fact they are brilliant at the story. It's like asking a surgeon to be an attorney.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book740 followers
February 13, 2017
We first meet Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli in Calcutta, India, where they enter into an arranged marriage, just as their culture would expect. Ashoke is a professor in the United States and takes his bride to this foreign country where they try to assimilate into American life, while still maintaining their distinctly Bengali identities. When their first child is born, a son, they are awaiting a letter from Ashima’s grandmother telling them his name, which she is to have selected. In the absence of the letter, and at the insistence of the American hospital, they select what is meant to be a temporary name. The name of Ashoke’s favorite author, the Russian Gogol.

There is a great significance in Ashoke’s selection of this name for his son, but Gogol does not know this. All he knows as he grows older is that he has a name that is strange and cumbersome and unwieldy and that he wants a name that blends and reflects his world, not the world of Bengal but the world of America. His name becomes, for him, evidence of his not belonging.

Against this backdrop, Lahiri examines the immigrant experience of the Gangulis, the confusion and difficulties faced by the first generation Americans who are their children, and the delicate ties that bind the generations to each other and to the culture they have left behind. As we watch Gogol progress through his life, there is much that we understand from our own experience and much that is unique to his experience alone.

In the end, I found this book was about expectations. The expectations parents have for their children, the expectations we have for ourselves, the need to live up to a criteria we sometimes do not understand or come to understand far too late, and the loneliness of each individual, even within the confines of a loving family.

By any standard, this book would be quite an accomplishment. As a first novel, this book is amazing. I have Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies on my shelf and I am now anxious to get to it. She is destined to be an important voice in literature.
Profile Image for Maziyar Yf.
609 reviews369 followers
September 3, 2023
همنام رمانی است که توسط جومپا لاهیری نوشته شده و در سال 2003 منتشر شد. داستان درباره زندگی یک مرد جوان هندی آمریکایی به نام گوگول گانگولی ایست که براساس نام نویسنده روسی نیکولای گوگول نامگذاری شده است .
رمان با تولد گوگول آغاز می‌شود ولاهیری او را در طول مراحل مختلف زندگیش همراهی می‌کند . او موضوعاتی از جمله هویت، تلفیق فرهنگی و پیچیدگی‌های روابط خانوادگی را در درازای کتاب بررسی می کند . گوگول در آمریکا بزرگ می‌شود و در میان دو فرهنگ قرار دارد: فرهنگ هندی خود و سبک زندگی آمریکایی
در همنام می توان موضوعات و چالش های همیشگی لاهیری مانند هویت فرهنگی و تلاش برای تلفیق در کشور جدید ، روابط خانوادگی و نحوه تاثیر تفاوت های فرهنگی بر آن ، نام و رابطه آن با هویت فرد ، تجربه دشوار مهاجرت ، تضاد فرهنگی و تلاش برای یافتن احساس تعلق به سرزمین جدید را دید .
در طول سفر گوگول از کودکی تا بلوغ، او با نام غیرمعمول خود، که آن را سنگین و غیر عادی می‌بیند مبارزه می‌کند. گویی که نام گوگول نمادی از هویت دوگانه‌ و چالش‌هایی است که او در رابطه با زمینه هندی خود با محیط آمریکایی روبه‌رو می‌شود . همچنین نویسنده به به روابط گوگول با والدینش، آشیما و آشوک، که مهاجران هندی بوده و درتلاش برای یافتن جایگاهی برای خود درآمریکا هستند پرداخته .
لاهیری روابط عاشقانه مختلف در زندگی گوگول را شرح داده. روابط عاشقانه ای که شامل شکست عاطفی و پیچیدگی‌های روابط با در نظر گرفتن توقعات فرهنگی و آرزوهای شخصی هستند .
در پایان کتاب همنام را باید یک رمان غنی با زبانی شاعرانه و توصیفاتی زیبا دانست . ، لاهیری توانسته است تجربیات عاطفی شخصیت‌هایش را به تصویر کشیده و با موضوعات مختلفی مانند مهاجرت و جستجوی هویت، خواننده را به فکر و تأمل در باب موضوعات پیچیده ای که در زندگی مهاجران هست ، وادارد .
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,628 reviews10.1k followers
November 24, 2021
Beautiful debut novel about an Indian family moving to the United States and the trials and tribulations of letting go and holding onto certain parts of your culture, as well as the many forces that connect us and break us apart from one another. I found Jhumpa Lahiri’s prose exceptional, how she writes in an ordinary slice-of-life way while rendering such compelling characters with nuanced hopes and struggles. Whether writing about the specific cultural themes of resisting your immigrant parents’ culture in a new country or broader themes of falling in love and breaking up, Lahiri knows how to get a reader immersed and invested in the story’s narrative. There were a few passages throughout the novel where the characterization, especially of our protagonist’s parents, Ashoke and Ashima, as well as the dialogue between these characters, literally took my breath away – passages that reflected back to me how moments out of our control can shape our destinies irrevocably, how we can still create meaning in our lives even when separated from what makes us feel most known and cared for.

There were a couple of elements of the book that I wanted a deeper dive into. These aspects mostly focused on how Gogol, our protagonist, and a character we meet later on, Moushumi, feel driven away from their parents’ Bengali culture, perhaps more so Moushumi than Gogol later on in the novel. For some reason I found Lahiri’s description of this aspect of these characters rather simplistic. Especially for Moushumi, I wanted a more thorough and robust understanding and unpacking of what factors motivated her decisions that then affected Gogol later on in The Namesake. At the same time, as I write this I recognize my feelings about Moushumi may stem from how she reminded me of a man who once hurt me.

Overall recommended for those who enjoy contemporary fiction. Some stuff in my life happened within the past 36 hours that’s gotten me feeling pretty down so I’ve basically only had the energy to read. I appreciate this book and these characters for keeping me company at this low point.
Profile Image for Ilse.
498 reviews3,843 followers
August 4, 2023

Train journeys a beautiful leitmotiv bringing change, reflection, direction, encounters, love, life, death.

Mixed feelings on style and storytelling.

(Auto)biographical feel.

Book more subtle than film by Mira Nair.

More moved by the depiction of the generation of the parents than of the children.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
477 reviews655 followers
April 26, 2017
As I read this book, a Mexican-American family sold their home across the street from mine, and an Italian-American couple moved in three houses down. With the book still open on my lap, somewhere in New York City, while walking and talking on her cellphone, my mother laid out a plan for me to help her find a place that was close to her friends from 'back home,' but still somewhere around city amenities. I was immediately forced to consider how my mother is similar to Ashima, the matriarch of her family who is the thread that keeps custom and family together.

In this uniquely woven narrative, Lahiri toys with time and details. The prose is so direct and descriptive that it fosters imagery that turn characters into fully-fleshed humans on the page. You have the feeling that every detail has been lived, that the writer has done some thorough observations of the smallest thing, like restaurants on Fifth Avenue and how much specific hats cost, that she has lived in the Ivy League academic circle, that she has struggled with issues of assimilation. Some of the reviews I've read, frankly, make me cringe from the ignorance. It's one thing to write about one's reading experience, another to harshly attack credibility. No wonder Lahiri wrote that she never reads reviews.

This may not have been her Pulitzer-winning piece (Interpreter of Maladies was) but I can see how it became a New York Times Bestseller. It seems as if quite a few books strive for empty but decorative prose, sometimes neglecting meaning and transition and nuance. Sometimes I just want a good story, one that moves in layers, one that moves through decades seemingly simply. Not too many writers can toy with time and barely have the reader realize it until one hundred pages later, when the story has ballooned into a multi-faceted plot, which by the way, is what she also did in The Lowland.

This story starts in 1968 and continues somewhere in the year 2000. At first glance it seems as if it is about Ashima, the expectant mother who has left her family in India and must assimilate in America with her new husband, an engineering student. She is hopelessly dependent upon her husband, and fearlessly determined to keep her arranged marriage in tact. However, her son, Gogol, or Nikhil, is really the core of this story. Gogol, an architect, is named after The Overcoat man himself, Nikolai Gogol, a writer whose storytelling pacing Lahiri seems to emulate. Gogol's struggle with his name is reflective of the fears most young Americans from immigrant families face: being treated differently because of a name, an accent, traditions, parents who are blatantly non-American. The name is a symbolic addition that morphs at different phases in the novel, adding nuance to delicate inner thoughts.

What's in a name? What's in a name change, when one wants to become a part of a new society? This name change isn't something I would pretend to know about, though I do know a few things about the struggle with assimilation and identity when moving to a new country. I was named after an American actress my mother loved, even while my mother laid on an African hospital bed. I didn't know this until watching this actress being interviewed (on tv or internet?) and my cousin blurted out, wow, your mannerisms are just like hers, and my mother yelled from the kitchen, but she was named after her! Gogol struggles with his name even while he dates two liberal American women who admire his culture. He struggles with his name when it becomes the subject of a shallow dinner conversation, when he views it as mockery. He struggles with his name when a teacher rudely informs the class of the writer Gogol's eccentricities and his saddening biography. Later, he appreciates his name when he learns how it was given, when he wants to hold on to special memories, when he finally becomes accustomed to being uniquely different.

And yet these events have formed Gogol, shaped him, determined who he is. They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.

The different love scenes were captivating. Gogol dated women I saw clearly, women to whom I could attach the names of friends. He became immersed in the literary and art world through Maxine and her parents, where he learned to relax and enjoy the art of living. He became immersed in the world of language with Moushumi, a woman who was interested in French literature and in finding her own way, her own customs; a woman who wanted to read, travel, study in France, entertain friends, explore meaning through the written word; a woman I could relate to.

I read this book while also sneaking a peek at my March edition of Poetry where I read Gerard Malanga's reflective poem and ode to Stefan Zweig: "Stefan Zweig, 1881-1942." I read this as the news about The Wall scrolled across my tv screen: It may be built, it may not be built; Mexico may pay for it; No, Congress will charge taxpayers for it. I read this while an email popped on my phone from a relative who lives part-time in West Africa and part-time in America: place a call for him to his doctor in America who he visits once a year for a physical he says, because they'll take my accent seriously, but not his. Oy. What's in a name; what's in an accent? And why would someone even try to discern if that someone has not even experienced the trials of moving to a new society, if that someone has lived in the same locale for a lifetime?
Profile Image for luce (cry baby).
1,502 reviews4,587 followers
January 28, 2023
blogthestorygraphletterboxd tumblrko-fi

“In so many ways, his family's life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another.”

In the past few years I've read and fallen in love with Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories as well as her book on her relationship with the Italian language In Other Words. Although The Namesake has been sitting on my shelf for the last couple months, when it was chosen as one of the February reads for the 'Around the World in 80 Books' group, I was finally spurred into reading it, and I'm so glad I did. The Namesake did not disappoint.

Written in an elegantly sparse prose The Namesake tells the story of the Ganguli family. After their arranged marriage Ashoke and Ashima Ganguili move from Calcutta to America. It is in this new, if not perpetually puzzling, country that their children Gogol and Sonia are born and raised.
As Lahiri recounts the story of this family, she also interrogates concepts of cultural identity, of dislocation and rootlessness, of cultural and generational divides, and of tradition and familial expectation. As the title of the novel suggests, The Namesake focuses on Gogol’s fraught relationship with his own name. As the American-born son of Bengali parents, Gogol struggles to reconcile himself with his Russian name. His uncommon name comes to symbolise his own self-divide and reticence to embrace his parents’ culture.

“He wonders how his parents had done it, leaving their respective families behind, seeing them so seldom, dwelling unconnected, in a perpetual state of expectation, of longing.”

Names and trains are recurring motifs in this long spanning narrative. Time and again we read of the way in which names alter others’ and our perception of ourselves. Train journeys provide characters with life-changing experiences: from near misses with death to startling realisations.
Yet, in spite of these fated moments, Lahiri’s novel possesses an atmosphere that is at once graceful and ordinary. The language she chooses has this quiet quality that makes that which she writes all the more realistic. Her most insightful observations into her characters, or the dynamics between them, often occur when she is recounting seemingly mundane scenes: from food preparations and family meals to phone conversations.
In spite of the gentle rhythm of her narrative Lahiri also articulates the tension between past and present, India and America, parents and children, husband and wife. As Gogol grows we read of his love and sorrows, of his hopes and fears, and of his insecurities and his lifelong quest to belong. There are heartbreaking moments of affection and miscommunication, and Lahiri truly renders both the difficulties of acclimatising to another country and of embracing one's heritage in a world where to be different is to be other.

By observing a characters’ clothes, appearance, or routine, Lahiri makes even those who are at the margin of the Ganguli’s family history come to life. The Ganguli's first neighbours in America, Gogol's teacher, who inadvertently cemented Gogol's hatred for his name, and even Moushumi's colleague are all vibrantly rendered.
While what Lahiri's characters' experience can be occasionally comic, she never makes them into a 'joke'. In fact, she reserves judgment, and each character, regardless of their actions, is portrayed with compassion.

“True to the meaning of her name, she will be without borders, without a home of her own, a resident everywhere and nowhere.”

Another thing that makes this novel stand out is how much Lahiri leaves unspoken. There are no melodramatic scenes or confessions. At times it is only hindsight that allows a character to realise the importance of a certain moment.

“Somehow, bad news, however ridden with static, however filled with echoes, always manages to be conveyed.”

There is a naturalness and openness to her characters' impressions. She writes with such clarity of such complex or ephemeral feelings or thoughts that I often had to stop to re-read a phrase in order to truly savour her words.

“For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy—a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.”

Lahiri is a master of the trade and in The Namesake she depicts an exquisitely intricate family portrait.

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads
Profile Image for Mariah Roze.
1,048 reviews1,049 followers
September 23, 2017
I read this book for my hometown book club. This book is an easy, smooth read. I've been wanting to read a book by Jhumpa Lahiri for a long time and I'm glad the opportunity finally arised. I now have put all the other books that my library has by her on hold.

I think part of the reason I connected so much with this book is because my best friend from college was an immigrant at age 6 from India. Her parents are traditional in a country that is completely different than theirs. They would like their daughters to end up with a man from India. However, they live in a city with only 80 Indian people total. When you takeaway all the children, parents and non-single men that doesn't leave much choice. While reading this book I kept thinking of her.

The book starts off with the Ganguli parents living their traditional life in Calcutta and then their large move to become Americans. Right after their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ashoke is an engineer and adapts into the American culture much easier than his wife, who resists all things American. When their son is born, the task of naming him becomes great in this new world. Since the baby can't leave the hospital without a name they decide it to be Gogol. The name of a Russian writer that his father loved.

The book then starts following Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path. He has a strewn conflict with loyalties, crazy love affairs with Indian and non-Indian women and so much more.

The author really shows what troubles face first-generation children.

I loved this book and was so taken by the main character. I really hope the author will someday write a second book!
Profile Image for Emma.
350 reviews58 followers
September 23, 2022
The Namesake follows a Bengali couple, who move to the USA in the 60s. Ashoke is a trained engineer, who quickly adapts to his new lifestyle. His wife Ashima deeply misses her family and struggles to adapt. Following the birth of her children, she pines for home even more.

Her two children grow up feeling more connected to America than India, and view their visits there as a chore. The elder child, Gogol is the main character. He struggles with his identity, and detests his unusual name. The book follows this family over the period of about 30 years. We watch Gogol grow up, we see him fall in love, and we witness the family's shared tragedies.

I very much enjoyed the subject matter. Ashima's culture shock and Gogol's identity crises both felt very authentic. I also liked seeing one family's experiences over such a large timescale. The one thing I didn't like was the narration style. It's written in the present tense, and the story somehow ended up feeling a little flat.

It's probably an unpopular opinion, but I prefer Roopa Farooki's stories about second or third generation Asian families. That's probably an unfair comparison though, as they are generally more cheerful, lighter reads
Profile Image for Sandhya.
131 reviews380 followers
August 21, 2007

It would only be fair to mention here that I saw Mira Nair's adaptation of the book before I actually got down to reading this novel recently. Having loved the film, I was keen to see how Lahiri had approached her characters and where its cinematic version stood in comparison.

I'll say two things. First, I feel this is one of the few times when the film more than does justice to the book and second, that the book itself is a deeply involving and affecting experience. In fact, so compassionate and compelling is the writer's understanding of her characters and their complexes, that the novel stays uniformly engaging till the very last page. Also, it helps that this is an extremely easy read and I for one, found myself going through it at a ravenous pace.

As a reader, one gets instantly drawn into the lives of young Ashima and Ashoke, who are a bundle of nerves in an alien country, far from adoring relatives and friends in Calcutta. The writer's description of how the couple grapples with the ways of a new world yet tightly holding on to their roots is deeply moving and rings true at every point.

When a letter from their grandmother in India, enclosing the name for their first born doesn't arrive in time, Ashoke instinctively and naively (as their son says later in life) names him Gogol- a name, derived from the Russian author, Nikolai Gogol, with whom the latter feels a deep connection. The name comes to embarrass their son as he grows older and is a reminder of his confused being -it's not even a proper Bengali name, he protests!

Gogol's agony is not so much about being born to Indian parents, as much as being saddled with a name that seems to convey nothing, in a way accentuating his feeling of "not really belonging to anything"
After much internal struggle, he changes his name to a more acceptable Indian name, Nikhil and feels it would enable him to face the world more confidently.

But for me personally, the best part of the novel was Gogol's marriage to his childhood family friend Maushami Muzumdar. The latter is far from a conventional Bengali girl and Gogol is attracted to her individualistic streak and high living. In many ways, Maushami bridges a certain important gap in his mind and presents to him the best of both worlds --- she's Bengali like him, so in a strange way that's a comforting feeling. At the same time, she displays the same excessive, broadminded living of the Americans.

However, the fact that this relationship collapses and leaves no mark in their individual lives whatsoever, is also a telling statement about how, ultimately, coming from a similar background provides no guarantee for marital success. On the other hand, his sister Sonia's marriage to an American proves to be quite blissful.

I've presented only an abridged version of my review but those with inclination to read further can see it my blog; www.sandyi.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,451 reviews11.4k followers
September 13, 2011
This appears to be written specifically for Western readers with no knowledge of Indian culture. You know, a commercial, populist work aimed to give you a flavor of India, shock you with arranged marriages, Indian family dynamics, struggles of Indian immigrants, etc., which at the same time gives you no real insight into the foreign mentality that isn't superficial or obvious.

Nothing new for me here. I say read In Other Rooms, Other Wonders instead if you are looking for something less trite.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,252 reviews10k followers
February 13, 2018
3.5 stars My favorite parts of any Jhumpa Lahiri story—whether it's a short story or novel—are her observations. She's so great creating realistic, emotionally-charged moments in her novels that feel so true to life. That being said, I think she excels at crafting narratives in the short story format. Both novels I've read from her have had wonderful and memorable moments but as a whole fall a little flat for me. The use of the third-person, present tense is also not my favorite because it convinces you that you are experiencing these things with the characters but you are held at a distance because you can't get inside their heads. I don't think it worked well here, and especially for a novel that deals a lot with nostalgia, traditions, and the past's effect on the present, I think the past tense would've worked better. That being said, I love Lahiri and will read anything she writes because scattered throughout her works are some incredible images, strong emotions, and lovely stories of families.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
576 reviews886 followers
January 15, 2022
I don't really have strong feelings on this one. It wasn't bad but I wouldn't say it was great. It feels like one of those books that I read and forget about after. It was quite easy to get through but I think it was more slice of life so it was mundane at quite a few points. It wasn't a unique perspective for me personally so I didnt get that out of it like other people seemed to. It felt familiar and I feel like the themes in the books are ones that come up a lot in South Asian narratives. I think it's a good leisure read though.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,535 reviews2,389 followers
February 19, 2017
This book tells a story which must be familiar to anyone who has migrated to another country - the fact that having made the transition to a new culture you are left missing the old and never quite achieving full admittance into the new. In fact a feeling of never quite belonging to either.
This is the experience for Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli and it is probably made worse by the fact that India and America have such totally different cultures. The story follows their lives for 32 years from when Ashima is pregnant and facing delivering her first child the American way without the comfort of her extended Indian family and all their social customs to help her.
Lahiri writes beautifully and the book is a pleasure to read. She also sees right to the heart of the issues of migrant families, from the mother who never adapts fully to the children who try to cast off their roots but find it very difficult to do.
My only issue was with the way the narrative rambles on, often about very insignificant issues yet passing too quickly over more important events. It was very well written rambling of course but my mind did occasionally wander away from the book.
Despite this, this is a beautiful book which tells a very important story and is well worth reading.
Profile Image for Usman Hickmath.
31 reviews29 followers
May 28, 2017
“Being a foreigner, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy—a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.”

Those lines vouch for how beautifully Jhumpa Lahiri has portrayed the struggle of emigrants’ life in West. Her depiction of conflict of cultures faced by the second generation emigrants is interesting.

But these MIT educated, middle class families’ struggles are completely different from what is being faced by the blue collar emigrant workers in Middle East and West. Would like to read a good work which represents them. Please recommend if you have read any on this area.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
492 reviews693 followers
March 29, 2016
Such a great book. My second book by Lahiri and it did not disappoint. Her writing is beautiful and lyrical. I did see this movie many times as it is a favorite. Even though I know the story, the book seemed new to me. The audio version was so easy to listen to. I an fascinated by Indian culture and love reading about it. I can see myself reading this one over and over again and will be watching the movie again very soon.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 15,010 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.