Summary and book reviews of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2004, 304 pages

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Book Summary

Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations.

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.

Chapter 1

1968 On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chili pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix. Ashima has been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling from newspaper cones. Even now that there is barely space inside her, it is the one thing she craves. Tasting from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual, there’s something missing. She stares blankly at the pegboard behind the countertop where her cooking utensils hang, all slightly coated with grease. She wipes sweat from her face with the free end of her sari. Her swollen feet ache against speckled gray linoleum. Her pelvis aches from the baby’s weight....

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Namesake opens with Ashima Ganguli trying to make a spicy Indian snack from American ingredients — Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts — but "as usual, there's something missing." How does Ashima try and make over her home in Cambridge to remind her of what she's left behind in Calcutta? Throughout The Namesake, how does Jhumpa Lahiri use food and clothing to explore cultural transitions — especially through rituals, like the annaprasan, the rice ceremony? Some readers have said that Lahiri's writing makes them crave the meals she evokes so beautifully. What memories or desires does Lahiri bring up for you? Does her writing ever make you "hunger"?

  2. The title The Namesake reflects the struggles Gogol Ganguli goes ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Book Magazine

An effortless and self-assured bildungsroman that more than delivers on the promise of...Interpreter of Maladies...a novel of epic sweep told with a short story's precision.*

*Bildungsroman is a German word meaning 'novel of formation' - that is a novel that follows someone's growth from childhood to maturity.



Harper's Bazaar

This eagerly anticipated debut novel deftly expands on Lahiri's signature themes of love, solitude and cultural disorientation.

Vanity Fair

Jhumpa Lahiri expands her Pulitzer Prize-winning short stories of Indian assimilation into her lovely first novel, The Namesake.

Marie 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.

Lifetime

The Pulitzer Prize winner weaves an authentic tale of a Bengali family in Boston...This novel powerfully depicts the universal pull of family traditions.

Kirkus Reviews

A disappointingly bland follow-up to a stellar story collection.

Publishers Weekly

Lahiri offers a number of beautiful and moving tableaus, but these fail to coalesce into something more than a modest family saga. 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.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

No detail of Nikhil's intriguing life is too small for Lahiri's keen and zealous attention as she painstakingly considers the viability of transplanted traditions, the many shades of otherness, and the lifelong work of defining and accepting oneself.

Library Journal

This poignant treatment of the immigrant experience is a rich, stimulating fusion of authentic emotion, ironic observation, and revealing details. Readers who enjoyed the author's Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, will not be disappointed.

Booklist, ALA

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.

Elle

The casual beauty of the writing keeps the pages turning.

Reader Reviews

Megan Cruz

Loved it!
If you are looking for a way to better understand and help you connect to your family and cultural then The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is the book for you. Lahiri does a wonderful job of giving you a well thought out and organized story of a young boy...   Read More

ND

Taken from a different angle
I think of this book as reflecting an intricate relationship in a family originally from a culture quite different from that in the U.S. Of partiuclar significance is the relationship between Gogol (after reading the book it seemed to me that he ...   Read More

DJM

I was completely caught up in the story--couldn't put down the book. It made me laugh out loud at some points, and I even shed some tears (and I am NOT the kind of person who cries at sad movies!). I agree with the reader who found Ashoke, the ...   Read More

Orange Blossom

I loved this book on many levels. The writing is exquisite, the characters real and engaging, and fleshed out via little details. I was very moved by the parents, the father especially. I think people of any age could relate to it, particularly ...   Read More

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