A friend in undergrad recommended I read this novel and I’m sad it took me this long to read it. The Namesake is one of the most beautifully and eloquently written novels I have read this year, if not ever.
There is something so simple and yet strikingly intricate in Lahiri’s prose. I can only compare her to the lyrical like prose I’ve read from many Irish authors. I found myself repeating sentences in my head because of their artful construction. The foreign names, foods, and customs interwoven with the familiar places and customs created a story I couldn’t put down. I’ve compared Jhumpa Lahiri to Jane Austen, in the ordinariness of what she writes and her style, and I stand by this, but it is the lives and deaths—the full picture, rather than the snapshot—at which Lahiri excels.
The Namesake is the story of the Ganguli family, from Ashoke’s childhood and his marriage to Ashima and the subsequent birth of Gogol (Nikhil) and Sonali (Sonia) and their lives and stories. Taking place in both India (Calcutta) and the US (Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, New York City) the setting provides a perfect backdrop for the first and second generation immigrants. Ashima’s longing to return to India and Gogol’s internal struggle of identity (he’s a first generation Bengali American named after a Russian author) provide the novel with an intensity that at times leaves the reader smiling out of sadness and crying out of happiness.