Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Paperback: 291 pages
For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.
-The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, pages 49-50
My first experience with the Ganguli family happened two years ago when I brought the DVD copy of the movie home from the library. I thought then that it was a beautiful and rich story, and was excited to find out it was also a book. After a few months of picking it up and putting it back, I finally bought a paperback of it from Waldenbooks about a year or so ago, but it sat on the shelf since then… calling to me whenever I looked in the general area of the bookshelf where it sat. And after reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, I decided it was time for something a little more lasting and meaningful, so I finally began the journey and story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, and their children Gogol and Sonia.
When thinking about how to describe The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the word that keeps coming to mind is “quiet”. Lahiri slowly weaves a beautiful tapestry of the love and living and feelings of being an immigrant family. The different customs and how the culture of the land in which you live can so overtake you and change you in ways you can’t even realize. First and foremost, it is a love story: The love of a man and wife, the love of parents for their children, the love for one’s family, and the love of one’s homeland. It’s also a story of the journey we all must take of self-acceptance, and, after that, the acceptance of others. Of course, the “Indian-ness” of it is also beautiful and intriguing.
One of the things I find fascinating from this book is the realization that all people everywhere share the burden of growing up, of culture, and of the hopes and expectations of their parents. For the majority of us, we caring these burdens among our own people… fellow humans who share similar experiences in this and this helps us not feel so alone. However, for those who have left their native lands, there can be a constant ache and isolation as they endure the struggles of life without the ability to lean on someone who can understand how they feel. What’s more, the first generation born in another land are even more isolated, having one foot in the old and new country, they can neither relate to their parents who have no understanding of the way things are in their adopted homeland, nor can they fully relate to their peers who either don’t have any concept of their home life or they find it a curiosity.
Interestingly, after reading this book, it has made me take a second look and given me a deeper respect for Maggie’s dad, who left his own homeland of Vietnam more than ten years ago and has recently become a naturalized US citizen. Not that I didn’t have respect for him before, but rather gained a bit more empathy for him. It’s also given me another perspective with Maggie, who made a passing comment recently how she sometimes wishes she was either all Vietnamese or all white, as being both sometimes makes her feel outside of either culture.
For it’s quiet beauty and it’s lasting effect, I give The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri 4 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: | arranged marriage, Ashima, Ashoke, Bengali, children, culture, customs, displacement, family, Ganguli, Gogol, immigrant, India, isolation, love, pregnancy, relationships, second-generation, seperation, Vietnam, Vietnamese