412Scott, February 4, 2012 (view all comments by 412Scott)
A brilliant piece of realistic fiction writing. What really kept me amazed was not just an engrossing and, at just the right times, surprising plot, but Lahiri's masterful characterization throughout this novel. Minor characters like the Montgomery family or the Gupta's carry signifigance in the Ganguli family's life like the numerous acquaintances and friends from different phases in our own real lives. Every human being in this story is human, with endearing and off-putting quirks, struggles, and choices. Not surprisingly considering one of the plot points, it has the scope of a Russian novel, but with the core of an American Immigrant story. Even better, I could connect to Gogol as a boy and man and Ashoke as a father, a truly amazing feat from Mrs. Lahiri to capture without ever living these perspectives herself. This was the type of book I willingly eschewed sleep for - it was a great experience.
dwrites, April 22, 2011 (view all comments by dwrites)
I have not read Lahiri's short fiction that preceded this novel; it seems to have created such fire among reviewers that "The Namesake" has disappointed some of them. But not me.
Three and more decades of life in the Ganguli family, newly emigrated from Calcutta in 1968, unfold and echo back on each other as the chief protagonist, son Gogol (newborn as they settle into the U.S.), grows through school and into adulthood. Lahiri's use of an "accidental" name for the child, which has come about because a piece of vital mail has not arrived from Calcutta in time, is the clever tie that binds Gogol to his roots, when it could do the opposite. As such, Lahiri explores the familiar conditions of new immigrants without resorting to cliche.
The strand that the name itself -- Gogol -- weaves through the narrative informs the action at every turn, in some sections more subtly than in others. Halfway through I realized that revisiting Nikolai Gogol's short fiction, while not necessary, would serve to enhance my reading of the novel. I took quick tours through a couple of N. Gogol's stories, most notably "The Overcoat," which repeatedly comes into play in this novel, though skipping this step does no damage to the story.
And indeed I am at a loss to express many direct connections, scarcely any parallels whatever, between "The Namesake" and "The Overcoat." For this I will want to revisit all of Gogol's short fiction and then again "The Namesake," for while there is the matter of a tortoise shell-like toenail in both works, a cloak ("overcoat") and a cape in each story, and a handful of other minute and odd shared details, there are these persistent, inarticulable echoes that I want to excavate.
"The Namesake" is not a story with explosions and enormous climaxes; the trajectory is rather ordinary, as it should be, for this permits Lahiri to explore her characters' interiors and the way these bump up against and often repel each other. Secrets kept from one another are at once mundane and startling.
Gogol hates everything about his name, until it isn't his anymore.
This was very well worth reading and will be a fine re-read, something I do not do with many books, once I have studied N. Gogol a bit more and also acquaint myself in a bit more depth -- entirely unnecessary but something I want to do -- with Indian naming and family customs, illuminated enough in "The Namesake" but making this particular reader thirsty for even more.
katatrina, August 5, 2008 (view all comments by katatrina)
This was a tremendous work, bustling with life and emotion. It was a story of growing up, of learning that being independent is really being close to your family, and about getting to know yourself. I wanted to read it again right away.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Lahiri's first novel amounts to less than the sum of its parts....By any other writer, this would be hailed as a promising debut, but it fails to clear the exceedingly high bar set by her previous work." Publishers Weekly
"Review A Day"
by Amy Reiter, Salon.com,
"In her 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri introduced us to people who left behind family and friends and the familiar heat and bustle of India to build a new life in America — a cold, bleak land of strangers and new customs. Lahiri's sweet, sometimes deep, sometimes quirky first novel, The Namesake, picks up on these beloved themes and then expands on them, following the Indian-American immigrant experience through to the next generation as she tracks the members of the Ganguli family." (read the entire Salon review)
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Though Lahiri writes with painstaking care, her dry synoptic style fails to capture the quirkiness of relationships....A disappointingly bland follow-up to a stellar story collection."
by Donna Seaman, Booklist,
"Lahiri's short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, and her deeply knowing, avidly descriptive, and luxuriously paced first novel is equally triumphant."
by Library Journal,
"[P]oignant...a rich, stimulating fusion of authentic emotion, ironic observation, and revealing details. Readers who enjoyed the author's Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection...will not be disappointed."
by Harper's Bazaar,
"This eagerly anticipated debut novel deftly expands on Lahiri's signature themes of love, solitude and cultural disorientation."
by Vanity Fair,
"Jhumpa Lahiri expands her Pulitzer Prize-winning short stories of Indian assimilation into her lovely first novel, The Namesake."
by Maire Claire,
"Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri weaves an intricate story of the cultural assimilation of an Indian family in America. Their bumpy journey to self-acceptance will move you."
by Amy Reiter, Salon.com,
"[A] sweet, sometimes deep, sometimes quirky first novel....Writing in the long form, Lahiri is able to do what she couldn't in her short stories: follow her characters beyond one pivotal moment in their lives and track their development and growth....[I]f the book takes a somewhat disappointing turn for the familiar as it follows Gogol to New York...it is likely only because this territory lacks the freshness — the pleasing foreignness — of the description of the family's early days in their new country or their trips back home....Ultimately, Gogol comes to appreciate his parents' true bravery, the world they left behind and the new world they created. Thanks to Lahiri, we readers do too."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"[B]eautiful....[A] bigger, untidier, and ultimately more involving book [than Interpreter of Maladies]....[Lahiri is a] sophisticated, gimlet-eyed chronicler of contemporary urban American life. (Grade: A)"
by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times,
"[Q]uietly dazzling....[A] wonderfully intimate and knowing family portrait...a debut novel that is as assured and eloquent as the work of a longtime master of the craft."
This quietly beautiful family portrait "deftly expands on Lahiri's signature themes of love, solitude, and cultural disorientation" ("Harper's Bazaar"), the very themes that made her collection of stories an international bestseller.
Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the very few debut works — and only a handful of collections — to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the many other awards and honors it received were the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the highest critical praise for its grace, acuity, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America. In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail — the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase — that opens whole worlds of emotion.
The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. The New York Times has praised Lahiri as "a writer of uncommon elegance and poise." The Namesake is a fine-tuned, intimate, and deeply felt novel of identity.
Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world — conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.
In The Namesake, the Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri brilliantly illuminates the immigrant experience and the tangled ties between generations.
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