The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Title:  The Namesake

Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri

Paperback:  291 pages

ISBN:  9780618485222

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.

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The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis


Title:  The Horse and His Boy

Author:  C. S. Lewis

Paperback:  767 pages

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publish Date:  1998

ISBN:  0066238501

Miscellaneous:  This edition is part of a complete collection in one book copy.   It was chronologically published fifth but is meant to be read third in the series.

He was just going to run for it when suddenly, between him and the desert, a huge animal bounded into view.  As the moon was behind it, it looked quite black, and Shasta did not know what it was, except that it had a very big, shaggy head and went on four legs.  It did not seem to have noticed Shasta, for it suddenly stopped, turned its head towards the desert and let out a roar which re-echoed through the Tombs and seemed to shake the sand under Shasta’s feet.  The cries of the other creatures suddenly stopped and he thought he could hear feet scampering away.  Then the great beast turned to examine Shasta.

“It’s a lion, I know it’s a lion,” thought Shasta.  “I’m done.  I wonder, will it hurt much?  I wish it was over.  I wonder, does anything happen to people after they’re dead?  O-o-oh!  Here it comes!”  And he shut his eyes and his teeth tight.

But instead of teeth and claws he only felt something warm lying down at his feet.  And when he opened his eyes he said, “Why, it’s not nearly as big as I thought!  It’s only half the size.  No, it isn’t even quarter the size.  I do declare it’s only the cat!!  I must have dreamed all that about it being as big as a horse.”

And whether he really had been dreaming or not, what was now lying at his feet, and staring him out of countenance with its big, green, unwinking eyes, was the cat; though certainly one of the largest cats he had ever seen.

The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis, page 246

The Horse and His Boy, though published fifth, is meant to be read third in the series.  It is an interim book telling a story that takes place within the time of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and features the adults Kings Peter and Edmund and Queens Susan and Lucy.

The book begins, “This is the story of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him.”  And then opens on a poor fisherman’s hut where a cruel middle-aged bachelor and his foundling son, Shasta,  live.  When a Tarkaan (something like a lord or baron) stops at the house and offers to buy Shasta, the boy is relieved to be leaving the man he’d always thought was his father but had never loved.

However, his relief is short-lived when the Tarkaan’s horse turns out to be one of the talking Horses of Narnia who tells him that he’d be better off lying dead on the roadside than as the slave of the Tarkaan.  Bree, the Horse, tells Shasta he was kidnapped as a Foal and is really a Freeperson of Narnia.  He further tells the boy that he himself is not a Caloremenian, but is a Narnian (or Archenlander) as well.

The two devise a plan of escape, and when the men are sleeping in the house, the Horse and the boy set off for Narnia and the North.  Along the way, they meet up with another Narnian Horse, a mare named Hwin, and a young girl named Aravis, who is a Tarkeena running away from an arranged marriage to a horribly wicked and hideous old man.

As they set out to pass through the capital city, though, the four are stopped by a procession of the Narnian Royals and Shasta is snatched out of crowd by Edmund who mistakes him for the missing Archenland Prince in their company.  This turns out to be a blessing, as Shasta learns of a hidden path that greatly shortens the trek through the desert that lies between Calormen and the lands of the North.

Throughout this book, there is a force leading, guiding, and protecting the four.  Of course, anyone who’s read the previous Narnia book knows this is Aslan, who has been working behind the scenes for the past 10-15 years (Shasta’s age is never given) to ensure that Archenland and Narnia will be safe from the attack of the Calormenian Prince Rabadash.

The Horse and His Boyis also Christian allegory, this time expressing the steadfastness and ever-present nature of Christ, even when we don’t realize he’s there (as Shasta was unaware of the true identity of the cat that protected and comforted him in the Tombs), and even before we know Him or follow Him (as neither Shasta nor Aravis new of Aslan, and in fact served other gods).  You cannot help but love Aslan as he reveals himself, and how he has been watching after them throughout their lives.  It’s very comforting to know He is always with us and caring for us, even when we’re stubbornly going our own way and resisting His hand.

Though I can’t say I liked The Horse and His Boy more that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I definitely liked it more than The Magician’s Nephew (though I still love the Creation of Narnia), and thoroughly loved and enjoyed it.  I absolutely give this book 5 out of 5 stars 😀

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