The Namesake is the story of Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. 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.
In a nutshell, this is a story about the immigrant experience.
Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, recently wed in an arranged marriage, have immigrated to Boston from Calcutta so that Ashoke can pursue a PhD in engineering. Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. Ashima is immediately homesick for India so she founds a network of Bengalis, 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, Ashima’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 Ashima 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 adapted as Americans. They hardly speak Bengali and only once in a while 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 many years. Lahiri and her character sought to remake themselves to distance themselves from the Bengali culture that their parents forced upon them as children.
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