Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Recently I was talking to a friend in US. while normal friends talk was over, she started telling about how her daughter is growing-up with american attitude/questionings/culture and how that's freaking her out. and just back of that discussion, I heard about this new movie from Meera Nair, that triggered my interest towards this books.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is a the cross-cultural, multigenerational story of a Hindu Bengali family’s journey to self-acceptance in Boston suburbs. book trys to explain the life of a first-generation immigrant boy Gogol, from his birth into his 30's as an architect in New York.

before share my thoughts about the books.. I saw harsh criticism for The Namesake especially from some Bengalis. some have attacked the book for portraying Bengalis poorly or for not being representative of certain Bengali immigrant archetypes. I too have my share of criticism but with regards to portraying bengalis - although I am not a bengali to comment on this but I support the author. frankly representation does not bought me since I dont expect the author of novel to work with the burden of sociological representation on her shoulders all the time. so if you looking for culture representation of bengalis aboard then you are better-off reading journals or scholarly studies.

Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans in 60s. On the heels of their arranged wedding, ashoke & ashima Ganguli settle together in Massachusetts. Ashoke is engineer by training, adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. Ms.Lahiri explores the themes of the complexities of the immigrant experience and foreignness, the clash of lifestyles, cultural disorientation, the conflicts of assimilation, the tangled ties between generations... and describes an Indian family torn between the pull of respecting family traditions, and the American way of life. It’s a tale of love, solitude and emotional upheavals with an amazing eye for detail and ironic observation

"For as grateful as she feels for the company of the Nandis and Dr. Gupta, these acquaintances are only substitutes for the people who really ought to be surrounding them. Without a single grandparent or parent or uncle or aunt at her side, the baby's birth, like most everything else in America, feels somehow haphazard, only half true."

Book describes quick summary of many years in Gogol teen life, raise some questions.. Once Gogol becomes an adult (when he goes off to Yale), the focus of the author is on a person almost entirely defined by his relationship to either his family or his lovers. I think this reduces Gogol's complexity and tends to make his character one dimensional. While in college, does Gogol not go through what undergrads regularly undergo, such as the struggle to figure out what to study, and does he not have anything else pulling at him, academically, culturally, even perhaps politically? And Gogol described as guy with no friends.. that's very hard to believe. may be representation of 70s american attitude towards immigrate child.!? but certainly that's not true today. perhaps because he does not have friends, his relationships with his lovers become the centre of his life.

The Namesake seems to me a quintessentially american book, this being a country always somewhat in flux socially, culturally, generationally. What seemed to me particularly indians in her telling is less the details, lush as they are, as the tenderness she shows towards the individual members of the family in their longings, in the restraint of their expressions, and in their struggles to find their own individual spaces and identities across a double continental divide.

book also covers how I as an Desi-American often stumble and ultimately get lazy on names and bring out a nickname that fits frame of reference. just to quote - their daughter's name is Sonali (beautiful) and her name is changed into Sonia. It's a great lesson for me to be very attentive to names because it shows a compassionate interest in someone's culture (its true, not just indian, even second italians, polish, greeks in america). Now, names are divisive. But it seems to me that lazily plunking a nickname down on top of someone feels like divisive...

It is this gentle handling of Gogol and his parents that made this book good read and yet it is in no way an overly sweet or sentimental portrayal. family is imperfect, their problems difficult, Gogol's search for identity leading him down somewhat cold and convoluted paths at times. No easy answers are offered, yet the ending, which is by no means pat, points towards a future in which Gogol may find a way to incorporate his family's past into his identity without losing himself in it.

This book is not lifestyle reference guide to understand next generation indian kids growing up in western culture but certainly gives us a dimension in to their life. would recommend to all specialy those in US(first/second/..generations Indians & americans too).


Chloe said...

i'd love to read this. i am fascinated by books on Hindu culture.

Nyscha said...

brilliant review :-) love the book

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie on a flight, and found it extremely boring... The view of America was primitive and generalized. The loneliness they often seem to have had was, after all, their own making because they never cared to integrate with their new host country, or bother to befriend americans, or to respect americans but rather stand apart with some aire of superiority. With this attitude, any immigrant will be lonely wherever they go.

neeti said...

whoever this "anonymous" is, i'm sure he/she is american. and a VERY stupid one at that. let's see YOU immigrating to another country and adjust to things there. when nothing you have is in common with everyone there. where you have problems even relating to people. let's see how friendly you are. ass.

bubbatugz said...

listen my dear respected muslim brothers and sister i am an intelligent and profound man and my intelligence has led me to the conclusion that the man who posted the anonymous comment is indeed an ass. thank you for your contributions my dear revered fellow muslim brothers and sisters and i bade you farewell. asses.

bubbatugz said...

i have yet another intellectual comment to give to my dear respected brothers and sisters,