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Namesake (Lahiri) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews 
Jhumpa Lahiri's quietly dazzling new novel, The Namesake, is that rare thing: an intimate, closely observed family portrait that effortlessly and discreetly unfolds to disclose a capacious social vision.... In chronicling more than three decades in the Gangulis' lives, Ms. Lahiri has not only given us a wonderfully intimate and knowing family portrait, she has also taken the haunting chamber music of her first collection of stories and reorchestrated its themes of exile and identity to create a symphonic work, a debut novel that is as assured and eloquent as the work of a longtime master of the craft.
Michiku Kakutani - New York Times


This is a fine novel from a superb writer.... In the end, this quiet book makes a very large statement about courage, determination, and above all, the majestic ability of the human animal to endure and prosper.
Christopher Tilghman - The Washington Post


[Jhumpa] Lahiri's deeply knowing, avidly descriptive, and luxuriously paced first novel is...triumphant.... [Her] 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.
Donna Seaman - Booklist


This first novel is an Indian American saga, covering several generations of the Ganguli family across three decades. Newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima leave India for the Boston area shortly after their traditional arranged marriage. The young husband, an engineering graduate student, is ready to be part of U.S. culture, but Ashima, disoriented and homesick, is less taken with late-Sixties America. She develops ties with other Bengali expatriates, forming lifelong friendships that help preserve the old ways in a new country. When the first Ganguli baby arrives, he is named Gogol in commemoration of a strange, life-saving encounter with the Russian writer's oeuvre. As Gogol matures, his unusual name proves to be a burden, though no more than the tensions and confusions of growing up as a first-generation American. 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. Recommended for public and academic libraries. —Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA
Library Journal


A first novel from Pulitzer-winner Lahiri (stories: Interpreter of Maladies, 1999) focuses on the divide between Indian immigrants and their Americanized children. The action takes place in and around Boston and New York between 1968 and 2000. As it begins, Ashoke Ganguli and his pregnant young wife Ashima are living in Cambridge while he does research at MIT. Their marriage was arranged in Calcutta: no problem. What is a problem is naming their son. Years before in India, a book by Gogol had saved Ashoke’s life in a train wreck, so he wants to name the boy Gogol. The matter becomes contentious and is hashed out at tedious length. Gogol grows to hate his name, and at 18 the Beatles-loving Yale freshman changes it officially to Nikhil. His father is now a professor outside Boston; his parents socialize exclusively with other middle-class Bengalis. The outward-looking Gogol, however, mixes easily with non-Indian Americans like his first girlfriend Ruth, another Yalie. Though Lahiri writes with painstaking care, her dry synoptic style fails to capture the quirkiness of relationships. Many scenes cry out for dialogue that would enable her characters to cut loose from a buttoned-down world in which much is documented but little revealed. After an unspecified quarrel, Ruth exits. Gogol goes to work as an architect in New York and meets Maxine, a book editor who seems his perfect match. Then his father dies unexpectedly—the kind of death that fills in for lack of plot—and he breaks up with Maxine, who like Ruth departs after a reported altercation (nothing verbatim). Girlfriend number three is an ultrasophisticated Indian academic with as little interest in Bengali culture as Gogol;these kindred spirits marry, but the restless Moushumi proves unfaithful. The ending finds the namesake alone, about to read the Russian Gogol for the first time. A disappointingly bland follow-up to a stellar story collection.
Kirkus Reviews




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