Friday, May 1, 2009

The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
Subjects: identity, sense of self, culture, immigrants, parent-child relationships, romance, conflict, death, marriage, divorce, coming of age.
Grade: A+

Lahiri's first novel is a flowing, beautiful masterpiece. It is at once reminiscent of classic literature and entirely modern. The novel follows the Ganguli family from its start, when two young Indians marry (after only meeting briefly - an arranged marriage) and move to the United States. Their attempt to settle in a foreign land, becoming foreigners themselves serves as the background for the story, their struggles becoming secondary to their son's similar conflict; Gogol, an American-born Indian, throughly American and yet very much his parents' son. We follow Gogol from childhood to adulthood, through adolescence, a normal struggle for identity, but his struggle becomes more intense when he leaves for college, and trades his ill-fated (in his mind) name, Gogol, for his "good" name, Nikhil. Though he always remains Gogol to the narrator, and to the reader as well, we follow Nikhil through various romances and rites of passage, trying to find himself. He keeps searching for an identity farther away from his family, but it is ultimately his family that brings him back home, back to himself. Though the story is largely Gogol's, his parents, Ashoke and Ashima are intricately developed as well, so much so that I feel as if I know them, know their culture, understand their lives - and yet all I know of them is bound between the covers of this novel. Lahiri's language and imagery is painstakingly stunning, every word carefully chosen and perfect in its detail and description.
To be fair, since this is a blog on YA Lit, I should admit that this is a decidedly adult novel, not YA Lit. That said, it is certainly a novel that mature or advanced high school readers would enjoy. It sticks with you in the best possible way, leaves you fully satisfied and yet still wanting more.