a novel by
[BOOK SUMMARY,REVIEW AND COMPARISON WITH THE MOVIE BY MIRA NAIR]
BOOK SUMMARY AND REVIEW
The first word of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake isn’t a word at all. It is a date. 1968, to be exact. But in many ways it is fitting that the opening line of Lahiri’s captivating novel takes the reader back in time, for much of the story is an examination of the tension between past and present. And it is that tension between what was and what is – never far from Lahiri’s or the reader’s mind – that drives the narration, colors the drama, and shapes the lives of the novel’s characters.
As The Namesake opens, Ashima Ganguli is a young bride who is about to deliver her first child in a hospital in Massachusetts. Her husband, Ashoke, is an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Ashoke had traveled back to Calcutta to find a wife. While Ashima wrestles with an intense longing to be with her family and to share the experience of childbirth with her mother and father, Ashoke wants to provide a better life for his new son by earning a doctorate degree. While both characters want to build a better life in America, however, their pasts play a strong role in who they are and what they will become.
The baby boy is healthy and the new parents are prepared to take their son home. But Ashima and Ashoke are stunned to learn that they cannot leave the hospital before they give their son a legal name. The traditional naming process in their families is to have an elder give the new baby a name. They have chosen Ashima's grandmother for this honor who mails a letter to them,which never arrives and soon after, the grandmother dies. In the meantime, Ashoke suggests the name of Gogol. He chooses this name for two reasons. First, it is the name of his favorite author, the famous Russian author. The second reason is that Ashoke, before he was married, had been in a very serious accident. The train he was riding in had derailed. Many people died. Ashoke had broken his back and could not move. He had been reading Gogol just before the accident. He had a page of that book clutched in his hand. The paper caught the attention of the medics who had come to rescue him. If it were not for the page, acting as a flag in the darkness, Ashoke could have died.
Ashima’s love of family influences her to create a close-knit web of immigrant friends. This group practices Indian customs, speaks the Bengali language, and, in many respects, becomes a substitute family for the vast collection of relatives back in India. But for Ashima, the close relations between the immigrants become an excuse to avoid the customs of American life. Ashima is reluctant to learn to drive, she insists on wearing Indian clothing and eating Indian food, and for many years she lives without American friends. To a large degree, her life is consumed by recreating Indian culture in America. For Ashoke, memories of life in India are less peaceful. A persistent limp in his right leg is a vivid reminder that the past is a burden that he carries with him every day. Still, Ashoke, like his faithful wife, embraces his past in India and recognizes that it plays a significant role in his life as a father and an American.
Gogol grows up hating his name. His father tries once to explain the significance of it, but he senses that Gogol is not old enough to understand. His parents decide to give...
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