I have watched the movie based on this novel several times. I actually own it. The movie departs from the story a bit, but most movies do.
This book is about two generations of an Indian family. The book centers around one young man, but we have to learn his back story before we learn about him. His mother is named Ashima. His father is named Ashoke. They had an arranged marriage in India. Ashoke was studying in the United States and took his new bride home with him. How Ashoke came to be in the United States is the interesting thing.
Ashoke used to visit his grandfather, who loved Russian authors. They would read the Russian authors together for hours and hours. After a time, it becomes apparent that Ashoke’s grandfather is going blind. He asks that Ashoke come and read to him. Ashoke begins the long train journey. On the journey he meets a man who has traveled the world. This man tells him to really travel and not just travel in his mind.
The train journey is cut short. The train crashes. Many of the cars derail. Many of the passengers are dead. Ashoke is alive. He was reading his copy of short stories, containing The Overcoat by Nickolai Gogol, a Russian author, when the train crashed. Ashoke is alive, but he knows the men will pass him by if they don’t see that he’s alive. He’s able to move just a bit. One of the men spots Ashoke and says he saw the man by the book move. Ashoke is taken to the hospital and spends months recovering.
He goes on to study and then get his degree. He travels to the United States as recommended by the man he met on the train, who is now dead. He marries Ashima and starts his life in the United States.
The first child born into the relationship is a boy. Ashima’s grandmother has picked out the names, but her letter has not come yet. The hospital tells the couple that the baby cannot leave the hospital without a name. They decide to call him Gogol after the man Ashoke credits with saving his life. Gogol grows. He gets a little sister. He doesn’t want to change his name. He grows up. He experiences life.
When he’s of a certain age, he decides he does want to change his name. He changes it to Nikhil, a name his family had picked out for him. He clashes with his culture. He never reads the book of shorts stories his father gave him. When Nikhil is still young, his father dies of a heart attack. His death sends Nikhil into a strange half-life. He helps his mother do everything and leaves relationships behind. Time moves on and Nikhil is eventually introduced to a girl he once knew. They hit it off, but things aren’t always pleasant. Everyone moves on. Nikhil finally has a chance to read the book of short stories that shaped his entire life.
What I liked
I’ll be honest with you, if I had to pick my name, I probably wouldn’t pick my name, but I don’t really know what I would pick instead. Names can have a big effect on your life. In this story, Nikhil/Gogol should have been using his name as a sign of strength, but he relied too heavily on the downfalls of Gogol’s life.
I liked how this story showed a family of immigrants finding their way in society in the United States. I really liked how they kept so many of their customs. It’s nice to have customs and traditions. For many of us, traditions are everyone arguing drunk over the Thanksgiving Turkey about politics. That’s what happens at my family’s house, but without the drunk part. There is no alcohol at our family gatherings.
This book just goes to show you that you can’t rely on family traditions and parental wishes alone. You have to find your own way in the world. You have to find where you fit in among traditions, but also in your own life.
What I didn’t like
Gogol is kind of a loser at times. He is. I think he’s too mopey. He should have been able to find his place in the world sooner than he did, but that’s life. We have troubles along the way and we eventually find a balance of sorts.
I liked this interesting look into Indian culture meshed with the culture of the United States.
books about indian people, gogol, gogol ganguli, india, indian culture in the united states, jhumpa lahiri, namesake book, nickolai gogol, russian authors, the nakesame, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Books set in Asia, Coming of age, Family dynamics, Fiction, Finding Your Self, Lahiri-Jhumpa, Romantic Fiction