(The back cover)
From the backflap
Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world – conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.
In The Namesake, the Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri brilliantly illuminates the immigrant experience and the tangled ties between generations.
Any talk of The Namesake--Jhumpa Lahiri's follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut, Interpreter of Maladies--must begin with a name: Gogol Ganguli. Born to an Indian academic and his wife, Gogol is afflicted from birth with a name that is neither Indian nor American nor even really a first name at all. He is given the name by his father who, before he came to America to study at MIT, was almost killed in a train wreck in India. Rescuers caught sight of the volume of Nikolai Gogol's short stories that he held, and hauled him from the train. Ashoke gives his American-born son the name as a kind of placeholder, and the awkward thing sticks.
Awkwardness is Gogol's birthright. He grows up a bright American boy, goes to Yale, has pretty girlfriends, becomes a successful architect, but like many second-generation immigrants, he can never quite find his place in the world. There's a lovely section where he dates a wealthy, cultured young Manhattan woman who lives with her charming parents. They fold Gogol into their easy, elegant life, but even here he can find no peace and he breaks off the relationship. His mother finally sets him up on a blind date with the daughter of a Bengali friend, and Gogol thinks he has found his match. Moushumi, like Gogol, is at odds with the Indian-American world she inhabits. She has found, however, a circuitous escape: "At Brown, her rebellion had been academic ... she'd pursued a double major in French. Immersing herself in a third language, a third culture, had been her refuge--she approached French, unlike things American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, or expectation of any kind." Lahiri documents these quiet rebellions and random longings with great sensitivity. There's no cleverness or showing-off in The Namesake, just beautifully confident storytelling. Gogol's story is neither comedy nor tragedy; it's simply that ordinary, hard-to-get-down-on-paper commodity: real life. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
One of the most anticipated books of the year, Lahiri's first novel (after 1999's Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies) amounts to less than the sum of its parts. Hopscotching across 25 years, it begins when newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli emigrate to Cambridge, Mass., in 1968, where Ashima immediately gives birth to a son, Gogol-a pet name that becomes permanent when his formal name, traditionally bestowed by the maternal grandmother, is posted in a letter from India, but lost in transit. Ashoke becomes a professor of engineering, but Ashima has a harder time assimilating, unwilling to give up her ties to India. A leap ahead to the '80s finds the teenage Gogol ashamed of his Indian heritage and his unusual name, which he sheds as he moves on to college at Yale and graduate school at Columbia, legally changing it to Nikhil. In one of the most telling chapters, Gogol moves into the home of a family of wealthy Manhattan WASPs and is initiated into a lifestyle idealized in Ralph Lauren ads. Here, Lahiri demonstrates her considerable powers of perception and her ability to convey the discomfort of feeling "other" in a world many would aspire to inhabit. After the death of Gogol's father interrupts this interlude, Lahiri again jumps ahead a year, quickly moving Gogol into marriage, divorce and a role as a dutiful if a bit guilt-stricken son. This small summary demonstrates what is most flawed about the novel: jarring pacing that leaves too many emotional voids between chapters. 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.
The Namesake, pp. 1-96
The Namesake, pp. 97-187
The Namesake, pp. 188-291
Visit the publisher's website for The Namesake at http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/readers_guides/lahiri_namesake.shtml
Visit a Reading Group website to see what other readers have been saying about this book at http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides3/namesake1.asp
"My Two Lives" -- The Pulitzer-winning writer felt intense pressure to be at once 'loyal to the old world and fluent in the new.'
"Rice" -- An article that Jhumpa wrote about her father and his cooking of a Bengali rice dish.
Here's a video of Jhumpa's father, Amar Lahiri, cooking the rice dish that Jhumpa wrote about in "Rice"
Pultizer Winner Lahiri Returns with 'The Namesake'
An interview with NPR's Melissa Block on the show
In 2000, author Jhumpa Lahiri won a Pultizer Prize for her very first book, a collection of stories titled Interpreter of Maladies. Lahiri returns to the literary scene with her first novel, The Namesake. NPR's Melissa Block spoke with Lahiri about the book, which tells the story of an Indian immigrant family in America. This interview was first heard on All Things Considered on August 29, 2003.
Follow this link to the NPR website -- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1415693
An Interview that Jhmupa Lahiri did with Charlie Rose on May 27, 2008. This is a rarity because Jhumpa does not do TV interviews or shows.
Here's the trailer for the movie by Mira Nair. The movie stars Irfan Khan, Tabu and Kal Penn.
Watch this short clip of a discussion between Jhumpa Lahiri and Mira Nair, the woman who directed the movie version of The Namesake.
A Picture of Irfan Khan (Ashoke) and Tabu (Ashima) from the movie The Namesake A Photo of Tabu and Mira Nair, the director of The Namesake