The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri - Book Review

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri - Book Review

Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the most famous Indian Diasporic writers, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake is nothing short of magic. It's a profound book that warms your heart and makes you believe that characters we are meeting are as real as it can get. This is a book that explores many themes ranging from rootlessness to the ideas of cultural identity and tradition but not for once does it become preachy or cliched. It's a moving tale about family, cultures and identities.

You know that feeling of hollowness, that feeling of going away from a person you considered 'home', of having something complete in its incompleteness and perfect in all its imperfections? That's the feeling I got when I finished The Namesake. As I finished it, I hugged the book close to my heart because that is where it's going to stay, forever. Just like Ashoke says-- "Try to remember it always. Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go." I will remember this book always.

"There's no such thing as a perfect name. I think human beings should be allowed to name themselves when they turn eighteen. Until then, pronouns."

There will be many that will say that this book is about Gogol, don't believe them I say. There will be others who will say this book is a bildungsroman, don't believe them either, I say. This book is a journey in itself I say and you might believe me, I'll leave that to you. But it’s a journey that you must take. The Namesake starts with Ashoke and Ashima's journey by leaving behind a place they called home and returning to it once a while and venturing into a new sphere, a new place which was foreign to them and building life from scratch with nothing but each other's support. Their subtle, shy, old school yet timeless love time and again reminds me of the song 'Piyu Bole' from Parineeta. It is also Gogol’s journey from being a shy, young boy to becoming a confident, young man and a good son. But does he become a good son? It's also his journey from hating his name to loving it, but does he actually ever love it?

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri - Book Review

Ashima's journey through the novel reminded me of Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines and the parts named as 'Going Away' and 'Coming Home'. I could draw parallels between Ashoke and Ashima's characters with my own parents and Ashoke's character is my favourite. He is simple, sweet, kind and very devoted towards his family but he never shows it. He is the one who names his son but does not tell him the reason and when he does it's described something like this “And as they sit together in the car, his father revisits a field 209 kilometers from Howrah. With his fingers lightly grasping the bottom of the steering wheel, his gaze directed through the windshield at the garage door, he tells Gogol the story of the train he’d ridden twenty-eight years ago, in October 1961, on his way to visit his grandfather in Jamshedpur.He tells him about the night that had nearly taken his life, and the book that had saved him, and about the year afterward, when he’d been unable to move.”

Isn't that what all of our fathers’ are like? They won't express their emotions ever but will always be our guiding and guardian angel, silently. It's maybe due to the patriarchal conditioning that expressing feelings doesn't come to them. They love us from their very soul but they won’t express it probably because most of them have been made that way. It reminds me of a video by Zakir Khan which is titled ‘Papa Please Preach More’ where he is dealing with this thing in his own spectacular way.

This book is about all the little things and about 'home' and for a search of identity, about a family straddling between two cultures and a lot more. The ending of every chapter in the book and of the entire plot line is so incompletely complete and perfect in all its imperfections that one ends up thinking- ‘How can someone write so beautifully!’

The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel and her second book after her award winning short stories anthology Interpreter Of Maladies is an all encompassing guide to the experiences of the Diaspora.

- Japneet Kaur

To read more articles written by Japneet Kaur - CLICK HERE


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