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Publisher's Summary

The Namesake follows the Ganguli family through its journey from Calcutta to Cambridge to the Boston suburbs. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli arrive in America at the end of the 1960s, shortly after their arranged marriage in Calcutta, in order for Ashoke to finish his engineering degree at MIT. Ashoke is forward-thinking, ready to enter into American culture if not fully at least with an open mind. His young bride is far less malleable. Isolated, desperately missing her large family back in India, she will never be at peace with this new world.

Soon after they arrive in Cambridge, their first child is born, a boy. According to Indian custom, the child will be given two names: an official name, to be bestowed by the great-grandmother, and a pet name to be used only by family. But the letter from India with the child's official name never arrives, and so the baby's parents decide on a pet name to use for the time being. Ashoke chooses a name that has particular significance for him: on a train trip back in India several years earlier, he had been reading a short story collection by one of his most beloved Russian writers, Nikolai Gogol, when the train derailed in the middle of the night, killing almost all the sleeping passengers onboard. Ashoke had stayed awake to read his Gogol, and he believes the book saved his life. His child will be known, then, as Gogol.

Lahiri brings her enormous powers of description to her first novel, infusing scene after scene with profound emotional depth. Condensed and controlled, The Namesake covers three decades and crosses continents, all the while zooming in at very precise moments on telling detail, sensory richness, and fine nuances of character.

©2003 Jhumpa Lahiri; (P)2003 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a Division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This production is a treat for the sheer combination of Lahiri's striking, often enchanting descriptions and Choudhury's graceful rendering of them." (Publishers Weekly)
"This poignant treatment of the immigrant experience is a rich, stimulating fusion of authentic emotion, ironic observation, and revealing details." (Library Journal)
"This is a fine novel from a superb writer." (The Washington Post)
"An effortless and self-assured bildungsroman that more than delivers on the promise of...Interpreter of Maladies." (Book Magazine)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
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Performance

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Story

  • 4.1 out of 5.0
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  • Story

My favorite book - in print and audio

When I do recommend The Namesake to anyone who’ll listen to me gush, I always warn them that “not a lot happens” in the book. But more importantly, I tell them that it doesn’t matter - Jhumpa Lahiri is that good. She can make the everyday actions of a young man finding his way in the world as captivating as any whodunit with her simply gorgeous prose. This is a novel about real life – about love and family, culture and assimilation – and is just a beautiful story well-told by Lahiri and narrator Sarita Choudhury, who offers the perfect blend of Indian and American accents in her performance.

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Everett
  • New York, NY, USA
  • 03-17-04

Coming of age story

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story about two generations of Bengali-Americans. Gogol, the main character, is born in the United States to Bengali immigrants. We follow him as he grows into a young man. As he grows up fails to understand the traditions of his Bengali parents. He even rejects the name they gave him. He is thoroughly American, but as he matures, his acceptance of his parents, their community, and his heritage grows. In many ways, the theme is similar to that in some of Amy Tan's writings about Chinese immigrants and their American born children. The difference is that the reconciliation between elder and adult child comes not through voyages or fantastic stories, but through the normal, believable experiences of parents and children living in the U.S. The narration is superb, with each character having a uniquely identifying voice and/or accent.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Anjan
  • San Francisco, CA, USA
  • 10-23-03

Hit Home

Wow! I'm a Bengali immigrant from India. It's amazing on how may levels this book hit home. While Jhumpa Lahiri explores the challenges of being an immigrant and the conflicts that arise from being born to immigrant parents, she provides intimate and unromanticized insight into the wonders of a bi-cultural experience. Nice!

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A

This was a great book--deserving of a "5". I reserve my "5" ratings only for the special book that comes along rarely! Beautifully written and read.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Beautifully Written, Beautifully Read

I'm amazed when individuals criticize literature written about and read from a cultural perspective. I found this a beautiful portrayal of the experiences of two immigrants from Calcutta and their American born children. I was able to internalize the struggle of keeping one's own culture alive, while adapting in a totally different culture, and what happens when one lives between two worlds--desperately needing to define his cultural identity--not quite feeling totally comfortable in either. In addition, the reader drew me into the book with her voice and intonation, moving from a pronounced Indian accent to having very little accent--when appropriate. I'd highly recommend it.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Anthony
  • Islandia, NY, USA
  • 10-07-03

Just wonderful

This is a beautifully written book which is also beautifully read. When you find something this good it is a gift. Enjoy. I look foward to this authors next novel.

33 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Beautifully written

I thought this was a great story. if you are looking for a book where something big happens, then this is not the book for you. If you like strong character development, then you will love this story. I felt like a fly on the wall, watching the life of this family unfold.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Beautiful and poignant

This is a beautiful book about the human struggle to both claim and resist family, history, and heritage. Told from the perspective of a second generation American-Bengali boy, Lahiri guides the reader through the universal journey to find oneself. Although the protagonist's heritage is Indian, this is a story with which all Americans can relate. Definitely recommended.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • connie
  • Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 08-21-08

pleasant, not too complicated read

A very captivating description of second generation North American immigrant experience, I think, but not as emotionally gripping or evocative as writers like Vikram Seth or Rohinton Mistry. For instance, when the characters visited Calcutta, I didn't feel like I was "seeing" the city as I see it when other authors evoke a piece of Southeast Asia - but perhaps that was on purpose.

One small detail of a scene encapsulated the whole novel to me - after a party, someone offers her guests not only leftovers of the traditional dishes to take away, but also the cooking pots that contained them. In the same way the younger main characters carry with them bits of their parents' culture, but more than leftovers, they keep "cooking" North American culture as they interact with it, just as their parents' culture remained strong throughout colonialism, but chose to admire and be flavoured by elements of European culture, such as love of classic authors like Gogol translated into English (giving us so many great SE Asian novelists writing in English as well as their own languages -- and on it goes)

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Good Read for A Young Adult

If it weren't for the fact that I lived and worked in Cambridge during the time in which this novel is set, I would have only given the book two stars. For me, the story's locale brought back many personal memories, and so for that reason, I enjoyed the book more than I would have otherwise. At times it seemed that I was listening to a story being read in the children's room at the public library. The reader often seems to drop syllables from certain words, but that is really just a minor defect. My main criticism of the story is the forced way in which the protagonist's name is used. It seems a device, a distraction, and has really very little to do with the tale being told, as if Ms. Lahiri was writing for a topic assigned in a creative writing class. Perhaps, with a bit of editing, she could have removed the intrusion of Nikolai Gogol into her story completely.
The author relates the biographies and immigrant experiences of four main characters, centering for the most part on Gogol Ganguli, born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, the son of Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli recent Bengali immigrants from Calcutta, and one other second generation Indian, Moushumi Mazoomdar. Her descriptions are vivid, almost mathematically precise. She succeeds in conveying the emotional lives of her characters. Since I very much enjoy novels by Indian authors of late, I felt I did gain some insight and perspective on their lives and culture. Nevertheless, the essentially quotidian nature of the story is not enough to make this great literature. It barely rises to the level of good soap opera.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful