April 29, 2004

The Namesake

I just finished reading a very beautiful book, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. She’s a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. It was not a good book for bedtime reading: I was often reading far into the night. Her writing is poetic, personal and touches the heart. The storyline is very similar to my own life: a person rejecting his cultural heritage and thereby always feeling uncomfortable with himself. He rejects not only the Bengali culture that his parents have very carefully transported to their new life in the United States, but also his name, the name that meant so much to his father.

Lahiri chronicles Gogul Ganguli’s life from before his birth, with the arranged marriage of his parents in Calcutta, through his childhood, his conflicts with his parents, his education and various relationships, until his mid thirties. After his father dies, he begins to appreciate his family, his culture, himself, his name, through difficult lessons. His mother introduces him to a daughter of a friend of the family, a Bengali woman whose marriage (to an American) was cancelled shortly before the event. They reach out to each other for comfort, appreciate the familiarity of their backgrounds, that they had been at the same community events in their childhood, that they both rebelled against their heritage. But that is not enough.

In the end, his mother comments that, although she did learn to love her husband very deeply, it is American common sense to look for happiness in love rather than settle for something less than a person’s ideal.

Posted by leya at April 29, 2004 07:30 AM