The novel begins off strong with a major accident in the country of India involving Ashoke Ganguli, one of the main characters, on October 20, 1961 between Calcutta and Jamshedpur. He survives his accident and fulfills his dream of becoming a professor while moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, Ashima, six years later. As soon as they moved into their new home in the United States, Gogol Ganguli is born into the family.
Being an immigrant family that lacked knowledge of the entirety of American culture led the Ganguli family through their ups and downs as they settled down. One of the first problems faced within the first few chapters of the book is centered around Gogol. His parents had taught him that in Bengali culture, there were “good names”, which were to be used in public, and “pet names”, which were to be used by family and closed loved ones.
When Gogol first enters kindergarten, around the time of the birth of his little sister, he is confused when his parents ask the school principal to call him by Nikhil instead of his pet name, Gogol, that of which he was familiar with because his parents called him that. He refused to respond to Nikhil, so the young boy grew up to be known as Gogol, which would later turn on him. He was too young to understand that his parents were concerned that his name wouldn’t fit the American culture because it could not be turned into a nickname, like how Nikhil could’ve been turned into Nick.
As time passes, Gogol ages and as he ages, there is an evident sign of major influence of American culture upon him and his younger sister. He replies in English whilst his parents speak to him in Bengali, he lacks interest in Bengali music and finds himself becoming a hard-core fan of the Beatles. He slowly loses the Bengali culture that his parents migrated to America with and grows to be more of an independent individual instead of growing up group-oriented, like his parents.
Jhumpa Lahiri does a beautiful job with not only allowing the story to come alive in the reader’s mind, but also painting a detailed picture and giving the reader all of the character’s opinions based of actions and dialogue, feelings and thoughts. The summary above explains only a small, but would grow to be significant, problem in the Ganguli family, especially Gogol. As the novel continues, every detail given about any character is a development and is almost treated like a puzzle piece to a greater picture of how immigrant families struggle in a foreign country while trying to maintain their culture as they practiced American culture.
The Namesake is a cultural and emotional themed book that pulls the reader in for a need to read more. Personally, I found a connection to this book as I was reading it, allowing myself to easily be able to fully immerse into the story.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.