The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Narrated by Sarita Choudhury
Challenges: South Asian Author Challenge
Synopsis: The Namesake is the story of a family from India who come to America. Although the story starts by telling of Ashoke and Ashima, the young married couple, most of the story is about their son, initially named Gogol but who later changes his name to Nikhil.
My Thoughts: This book left me feeling a bit disappointed. I liked the language in the story. Lahiri always writes such beautiful prose and to a certain extent I connected with the characters but I just felt a bit let down by the end I think. Now I know that Lahiri doesn’t always write happy endings and it wasn’t necessarily that which bothered me. I think it was just the rather abrupt ending. The final scene was good but had it not been for the fact that I saw the timestamp I wouldn’t necessarily have known it was over soon. It just jumped up on you somehow.
I did connect with Gogol/Nikhil with regards to the name issue. My name is unusual in Sweden but common in English speaking countries. Growing up I really hated always having to spell it. I was the kid who would pre-empt the sub by saying “that’s me” when I knew they were coming to my name. In that respect I understood his frustrations. However, I didn’t like the way he treated his parents after he found out. He never really acknowledged what his father did until it was to late. Maybe I am sensitive to this because I almost lost my dad over the summer (there but for the grace…). For me, the thought of my father not being here is enough to change my view on life. For Gogol/Nikhil finding out about his fathers accident seems to have no effect what so ever. I did not like the way he treated his parents. I think that just rubbed me the wrong way.
As I said earlier the prose is beautiful. The language is quiet. It paints pictures so clearly without hitting you over the head with it. I could see the places they lived, the trains they travelled on, the parties they hosted. I felt like I was in all those places. Yet I found it difficult to connect with the passivity of the characters at times. There lack of communication with each other. It bothers me, maybe that is my own cultural bias but the fact that they never TALK to each other really rubbed me the wrong way. I guess what this shows is the difficulties when families grow up in different cultures. Ashoke and Ashima have certain expectations, expectations that their children do not. However, again, the not talking thing bothered me. My father didn’t grow up in Sweden, he comes from a culture that although similar is also very different. The way we avoid conflict is buy talking. I’ve heard stories about my dad growing up. I KNOW where he comes from because we talk about it. I just find it very hard to relate to characters that do not communicate. Again, maybe this is a failing of mine.
There were a couple of instances where I wondered if there weren’t mistakes in the writing. At one point we are told about Moushumi’s reaction to the break-up with Graham. We are told that she lives with friends. A chapter or so later Nikhil and Moushumi are at a party at the friends with whom she stayed, however this comes as a surprise to Nikhil. I just found it odd as I had understood it as we were told about Moushumi’s past at the same time as they discussed it. It seemed odd and it bothered me.
As always when my first encounter with a book is in audio I am left wondering if I would have had a different reaction to it had I read it. I will say that I really enjoyed the audio production. The narrator was clear and I liked how they used accents for Nikhil’s parents. It made the story feel more alive. It was read at a good pace but not to fast.
The book is told in somewhat of an episodic fashion; I wasn’t surprised to learn it had originally been a novella that had been expanded upon. This format makes it hard for me to see where the author is going at times. Although the story is told in chronological order it still feels very jumpy. Certain events that I felt had a big lead up were ended quickly, much like the ending of the book. They didn’t feel properly resolved, but rather they were just dropped without any real resolution.
Overall the book wouldn’t be my first choice for a Lahiri book, I preferred Interpreter of Maladies, but I wouldn’t discourage people from reading it. I never wanted to abandon it, I was invested enough in the characters that I wanted to find out what happened to them.