Monday, April 14, 2008

The Namesake

I read this several years ago but when my sister, Emily, brought it to my attention again and told me they had made a movie I decided to re-read it. The Author, Jhumpa Lahiri, won the Pulitzer Prize for her debut novel, Interpreter of Maladies, which I have not read. But she is clearly a talented author and writes a well-told story.

The story follows a young Indian couple, together through an arranged marriage, settling and starting a family in Boston. They name their firstborn, a son, Gogol, after a Russian author who had great meaning to Gogol's father, Ashoke. When Gogol's character is old enough to have meaningful experience, the author tells the story of the awkwardness and adjustment first generation immigrant families have in the community and within their own family through him. I felt Lahiri's skills were best shown off during these earlier years when the conflict between parents and children was the greatest due to their immediate proximity to each other.

Later on, when both Gogol and his sister, Sonia, were adults, I was a little less sympathetic to each embarrassment, each cultural difference. I felt by that time, Gogol should have been a little more comfortable in his own skin but he never was. As much as this annoyed me, it is probably more realistic than writing him as a perfectly adjusted American who enjoyed, without guilt, all of the sacrifices his parents had made for him.

The one fault I have with Lahiri is her choice of devoting the narrator to Moushumi towards the end of the book for two chapters. I'm sure the author identified with her, and wanted to explain her character, but I thought it betrayed Gogol by letting the reader understand more about her than Gogol did. And her details didn't give us any more insight into Gogol.

I'm looking forward to watching the movie. Since we don't go to theaters, I'm sure I'll be renting it and it'll be awhile before I see it but for those of you who won't read the book, know it comes from a great book.

Here's the trailer

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