‘The Namesake’ offers story of cultural adaptation
Two generations of the Ganguli family exploring their new American identity while retaining their Bengali heritage is the basis for Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake,” but the depth of character and their experience in relationships is what the author pulls us into and what we will continue to feel long after turning the final page. The parents, who have newly immigrated from India, experience both the difficulty and rewards of fitting into their new country while also building a parallel sense of the Bengali life they left behind through their web of extended family and friends with whom they celebrate all of their social occasions with. It is in this social sphere and continuation of their traditions and cultural practices that they are able to somewhat satisfy their yearning for India. I don’t know that I ever sensed they had completely settled into their new country, especially with the frequency with which they traveled back to India, spending months at a time there.
The children were born in America giving them a somewhat different experience of establishing their American identity while learning of their Bengali heritage as they grow up. During their family trips back to India in which their parents are returning home, the children are essentially visiting the country of their origin. The story brings the reader into their internal struggle in which they embrace their cultural heritage at times, but more often rebel against it.To further complicate the sons struggle with identity, his name Gogol was taken from a Russian author his father has connected with involving a matter of a very personal and traumatic experience. Gogol struggles throughout his childhood with his name, all the while missing the rare and veiled opportunities his father gives him to understand his namesake. Gogol goes so far as to refuse to read the Russian authors works and tries to end his struggle by legally changing his name. This struggle with his identity manifests itself throughout his relationships.
It is at the level of these relationships that “The Namesake” really pulls the reader in. We experience the duration and resolution is some sense of the marriage of Gogols’s parents, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, and the marriage of Gogol and Moushumi. Without giving away too much, one marriage seems formal and cold in contrast to the other which appears to burn with a more modern sense of romance and deepening love. This is where “The Namesake” moves the reader on an emotional level and allows us to see that all is not as it seems. The depth of love where it did not seem to exist reveals itself over time having been hidden in the daily details of life. The love that seemed to burn brightly may not have ever been what it appeared to be. The details of the Ganguli family’s life as Americans form the cornerstone of “The Namesake” and works as an enjoyable story itself. The depth of their relationships that Jhumpa Lahiri brings the reader into is what you will not stop thinking about for a long time.
“The Namesake” is available at Weber’s Books on Main Street in Breckenridge. Marketing manager Larry Ebersole is available at the store or by e-mail at Amentalengineer@cs.com for thoughts and suggestions.
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