The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

As I was done drinking my minted tea and eating my rghayef with beldi cheese and honey, I was done reading The Namesake as well. Recalling back the quiet simple way the main character came to a certain peace with his identity crisis in the final pages, I can’t help but being reminded of Amine Maalouf’s Deadly Identities: Gogol could have found it a helpful book. I also was able to sweep out the thought that Gogol was similar to many Moroccan book characters in the points of having a certain passivity if not of being a total wallflower.

Gogol is named after his father’s favourite author. But growing up in an Indian family in suburban America, the boy starts to hate the awkward name and itches to cast it off, along with the inherited values it represents. Determined to live a life far removed of that of his parents, Gogol set off on his own path only to discover that the search of identity depends on much more than a name.

Some time ago, I watched The Namesake and found its plot quite familiar. It turned out it was listed on one of my ToRead lists and Amy Tan was approving of it. So, I started it on ebook and when I had the incredible opportunity to find it at Calliope, I took it right away.

I agree with Amy when she describes the narrative style as “dazzling”: I was taken away smoothly throughout the pages and neither have I felt the harsh disconnection I usually feel when I look out from a book nor did I experience a moment of dullness.

What struck me first about the story was the fact that it was told in the most impartial way it can be, in my opinion: I didn’t feel the author struggling to make a point. I didn’t see her either use the non-judgmental “Subject. Verb. Complement” form in order to avoid adjectives and granitic words such as “yes” or “no”. People are having issues and they’re trying to deal with them and then life goes on and so on. No need to go neurotic over a fact or two. In fact, Gogol doesn’t go neurotic at all, it seems.

I loved the way Jhumpa faithfully reported the gestures of Ashima while cooking, the details Gogol notices, the routines of the characters: she takes aspects of everyday’s life and thanks to her sense of details or narration or whatever magic she uses, she puts them under a glowing golden light that intensifies their colors, their smells and tastes. I was practically dutifully eating damplings with Sonia and Gogol in Calcutta, I was sipping wine every once and a while with Moushoumi, I could smell the absence of heat in Gogol’s apartment and easily picture the Ohio apartment of Ashoke. Details of conversations and impressions are vivid in my head. Lydia and Gerald with this sophisticated life that lacks depth, the Bengali friends at every party and occasion, their warmth, Donald and Astrid attitude’s – I wonder what they’ll name their baby- and dear light Sonia and dear Ashima, dutiful and obedient yet with her own states of mind and decisions when it really matters or really doesn’t matter.

Throughout the pages, I kept on asking Gogol: “Please, read the Russian litterature as your father did! Isn’t it the least way to honour his memory? Please read Gogol’s overcoat..”

-“Hey Gogol, have you figured it out? Do you remember your fourteenth birthday?”

-“Goggles! Do you come to understand now? Do you hear it in your mind as well by now? Do you understand why Dostoyevsky said what he said?”

This is something I feel like asking the author about or a book club.

“Try to remember it always. Remember that you and I made this journey, Gogol: that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go”

Ashoke, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri


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