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Fiction Review – The Namesake


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri


Review by Susan R. (Sue-in-AZ)


Story Synopsis

This book tells the story of two generations of an Indian family in America. The first generation are immigrants, the second generation is born and raised in America.  This is a classic American story of the generation gap compounded by a cultural gap between parents and children.

The story primarily follows Gogol Ganguli, the son of Indian immigrants.  The cultural gap between Gogol and his parents start when he is only days old.  The hospital will not allow the Ganguli’s to take their new son home without a birth certificate – which must include a name.  But the Indian tradition is to give children a pet name until they are older and can be given their real name – usually when they are old enough to start school.  The parents solve their dilemma by agreeing to assign the pet name to the birth certificate, with plans to change the name later.  They fail to change Gogol’s name, leaving him to change it himself once he’s old enough.  The contrast between his birth name and his chosen name highlights the cultural conflict through the rest of the book.

The story follows the sometimes dual life that Gogol leads – Indian at home and American everywhere else.  As a young adult, he is clearly searching for an American family to attach himself to.  Events in his family lead him to try to live a more traditional Indian lifestyle.  Both efforts lead to mixed success. Finally near the end of the story, Gogol has found some peace within himself, shown in the book as a willingness to live alone.

The book also shows a smoother path for Gogol’s younger sister, who has the benefit of parents who’ve learned many things the hard way with the older son.  The lives of the immigrant parents are also depicted with sympathy and understanding.  It’s impossible to not fall in love with this family.


My Review

This book was extremely well-written. The author is a former Pultizer Prize winner, and her talent shines in this book.

The story of children being more American than their immigrant parents has played out with many nationalities throughout American history.  In this case, the immigrants are from India.  They make the classic immigrant choice of helping to build their own Indian community, and their friendships and associations revolve around that community.

With the parents often baffled by American culture, the children are sometimes required to figure things out on their own.  In this case, the parents are loving and supportive, but in many ways unable to help Gogol find his way.  Gogol does the best he can, making decisions that veer from great to disastrous.

I really enjoyed this book.  I work with a large number of Indians at work – most of whom have moved here as adults. Books like these help me understand and appreciate their situation and point of view.





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3 Responses to “Fiction Review – The Namesake”

  1. comego says:

    This is an incredibly well written book by Jhumpa Lahiri. With her pedigree its hard to expect less but this book surpasses expectations. Great read!

  2. ANNA S. (SanJoseCa) says:

    Great review Susan.
    Lahiri is a master story teller, I loved THE NAMESAKE. I recently read UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, a collection of short stories, loved it too!

  3. Brenna B. (demiducky25) says:

    This was a wonderful review and really made me want to read this book! I saw that it is currently available on PBS and have ordered it. Now I just have to wait for it to come in! 🙂

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