#1001Books review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Sometimes, I finish a book from the 1001 Books list and wonder why, exactly, it’s on the list at all: The Breast by Roth comes (quite unpleasantly) to mind. This is most definitely not one of those times…

The Namesake is a quiet, unassuming, deeply affecting story of an Indian family’s immigrant experience. The story begins with the birth of Gogol Ganguli to his parents, who settled in Massachusetts immediately following their arranged marriage in Calcutta. With flashes into the earlier lives of his father, Ashoke, and his mother, Ashima, we watch as Gogol grows up American in a Bengali family, somewhat ashamed of his heritage and the unusual (from American or Indian perspective) name that he was given. While undoubtably the story of an immigrant experience, The Namesake is full of universally human experiences; growing up and growing old, discovering your own identity, complicated relationships with parents involving embarrassment and the pull of loyalty, falling in love, losing loved ones… there is much for anyone to to relate to and think about.

The writing is beautiful. Lahiri has a way of taking ordinary moments and elevating them with simple turns of phrase to really draw emotion and bring her characters to life. The descriptions of some of Gogol’s experiences with his father had me in tears, while other passages had me smiling and laughing.

“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.”

This is ‘just’ the story of a family… nothing out of the ordinary or historic happens to them, there is no action, adventure, or drama, and no storybook love affairs, but the human experience is captured perfectly in a fantastic work of literature that made me think and feel. The chance to discover absolutely gorgeous books like The Namesake is why I am such a voracious reader.

The audiobook was very well done, with excellent narration by Sarita Choudhury. I had lots of driving time over the weekend on a family road trip, and I very much enjoyed losing myself in Gogol’s story.


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