Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: The Namesake

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to belong to book clubs. They often induce me to read books I might not have picked on my own. I had heard nothing of this book prior to seeing it on my book club's selection list. Had I been at the meeting when they were narrowing down to the eleven selections for the year, I might not have even voted for it. But, I am glad to have read this book. It held a lot of interesting ideas to consider and was a flavor I don't normally seek out.

In The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri tells the story of the Ganguli family as they emigrate from Calcutta to America after an arranged marriage. The tale opens with the birth of their first child, a son. They are waiting for an important letter from the grandmother, bearing the name suggestions for the baby. Sadly, the letter never arrives and Ashoke and Ashima select their own pet name for the boy, Gogol, named for the Russian writer whose book of short stories played a significant role in Ashoke's life. The boy grows to despise his name and eventually changes it, unaware of the reasoning behind his parents' choice.

I appreciated lots of aspects of this book. I loved the expert writing where the reader is sucked into the story completely, unaware of the author's presence. The prose was beautiful, full of rich sensory details. The characters were endearing and interesting. The story evokes so many deep ideas about identity and cultural leanings and the role of families. It causes the reader to contemplate the things which form their own identity and purpose. It opens up new horizons to consider, new ways of relating to the world. Every reader will benefit from the themes and ideas presented in this wonderfully written tale.

I would recommend the audio version of this book. It really brought the story to life with a narrator who was able to manage both the Indian pronunciations and the American accents. I think I enjoyed the book more in listening to it than I might have if I had plowed through it, reading on my own (since the middle does get bogged down a bit with details of the son's various relationships to illustrate his identity struggles).

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