I was pleased to find this book nestling on a corner shelf in my local bookstore and the fact that it addresses one of my most favourite themes of immigrant/cross cultural literature made the decision of buying this book a rhetoric one.
People leaving their home land to seek livelihoods in different countries, often across continents, is a notion that I find very interesting not only because it fills me with hope but also because it gives me greater insight into how people adapt and assimilate into their adopted countries.
The Namesake is set in an era distinct from today where we take technology for granted. It takes you back in time when the modes of communication across countries relied on a precious telephone call or in most cases a cryptic telegram. The book transpires between Calcutta (India) and Massachusetts (America) and begins with a Bengali couple Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli moving to America as they leave behind the comfort of home and routine. They are newlyweds and along with getting used to each other, they also have to get used to a completely different country with a culture distinct from their own.
Slowly, they try and adapt to their new surroundings with Ashima finding it a lot harder than Ashoke to call America ‘home’. She hankers after the traditions she is so used to and is often taken aback with the newness that confronts her in everyday life. When the Gangulis are blessed with a child, the naming ceremony pans out quite differently from what they would have imagined leading to the name ‘Gogol’ that becomes the identity of their first born. Lahiri beautifully draws out the cultural conflicts faced by Ashoke and Ashima specifically when it comes to their parenting style(s) and focuses on Gogol’s search for identity. The more I think about the story, the less I want to write about it as it is very easy for me to cloud your perception. This is a felony I won’t commit and will leave you to pursue the book with an almost blank canvas.
Having left India some years ago and currently living the immigrant experience, it was easy for me to relate to a lot of the situations depicted in this book. There were times when I nodded in agreement and others when I smirked in quiet amusement.
Lahiri’s writing is lyrical and evocative. There were moments during the course of the narrative that I had to detach as I could feel myself getting carried away by the emotion of it all. It was hard to neglect the strongest pull there ever is - that of the motherland calling out to her child.