The namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is the story of one family’s life in America and one man’s journey to coming to understand his name. It is a story about family, tradition and change. The book was named into a film in 2006 starring Kal Penn and Irrhan Khan.
Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli are immigrants from Calcutta in 1968. Ashoke is attending an American university pursuing his doctorate in physics. The story opens as a very pregnant Ashima tries to recreate the comforts of home in her new country. When she goes into labor, the experience is shocking for her as American hospitals are very different than she expected. After their baby boy is born, they are forced to give him a name for the birth certificate. They are accustomed to giving a child an official name years later. They name him Gogol, after a Russian author that Ashoke feels a close kinship with. With the addition of a daughter, Sonia, in 1974, the family settles in their new American life. Ashoke and Ashima are slow to assimilate with in regards to foods and clothes while their children are very much American teenagers in clothes, friends and eventually lovers. Problems begin when Gogol is 18 and he wants to legally change his name. His father refuses to tell Gogol the reason behind his name for many, many years. With his new name, Gogol begins to lead a life very different from his parents’ dreams. As Gogol seeks to become independent, his rebellion grows. It isn’t until tragedy strikes the family that Gogol realizes that he is caught between two worlds. Two worlds he didn’t know that he wanted to belong to. Remembering the story behind his name, Gogol finally begins to father’s footsteps into the past.
The namesake is more than just a story about an immigrant couple who has children who become Americanized. As I read, I see many aspects of all times of families as the younger generation questions or rejects the traditions and the parents desperate to hold on. I also see how some of the older generation hold on to traditions simply because it’s how it has always been done. Sometimes without trying, the generations comes full circle. I highly recommend The namesake as look inside the life of a family during times of changing values and traditions.