Wednesday, January 31

Book recommendation: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I recently read "The Namesake" by Pulitzer prize winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri, the lady pictured below. I picked it up at Penn Station in New York City last Saturday and started it while traveling back home to Jersey. It was difficult to put down and I ended up finishing it at one sitting.

It's about this Indian family from Calcutta who settle down in Massachusetts. It follows their lives across 40 odd years, from the time the patriarch, Ashoke Ganguli, first comes to the US, attending MIT to pursue his PhD. He travels back to Calcutta during this time, to get an arranged married to Ashima. The couple live in Cambridge and eventually have two children, Gogol and Sonali, at which point, the book begins to focus on Gogol's life.

The main character is Gogol, however we experience a lot of the story, and the family's life events, through every one's eyes. That helps us understand the Ganguli's as a family and their Bengali culture on the whole, a lot better.

I liked that I could relate to the son and the dad at times. Naturally, there was the usual conflict between being Indian and the West, but it didn't seem regurgitated this time. As a result, the tale wasn't boring or frustrating as it usually becomes in American Desi type situations. I found that aspect to be quite fresh, perhaps because its through the eyes of an Indian Bengali family, rather than North Indian or Pakistani, which I can relate to better. It was also fun to read the names of familiar streets in the Cambridge area!

However, I felt the story was a bit 'filmy' at times. A little too exaggerated and I suppose it was easier to just move past those parts.

Needless to say, a movie based on this book is coming out in March 2007 starring Kal Penn and directed by Mira Nair. Penn is an uninspired choice to play Gogol Ganguli, but I suppose he is the most recognizable actor of Indian origin in Hollywood. I enjoy Mira Nair's work, and the author, Jhumpa Lahiri has a cameo in the film, so I assume she had plenty of input in the screenplay. I suppose there is a chance that the movie can pull it off.

You can find the book at Amazon...


Trekker said...

Good review! I've heard good things about The Namesake too and its on my '07 reading list.

omar said...

Thanks! I'm sure you'll like the book. Cool reading list!

Malissa said...

A mutual friend that Jamie and I have has read that book too, and she told me about the movie coming out. You should let me borrow it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Omar
Thought we'de let you know, Jhumpa Lahiri's latest brilliant new book of short stories "Unaccustomed Earth"is out on 31st March in India. One can pre-order copies from
Mary Therese, Random House India

ps: I might be biased, but I think this new book is absolutely sensational.