The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is an intricately detailed account of the Ganguli family from Calcutta and their struggles as an immigrant family adjusting to a new culture, to their new life in America. The story focuses on their firstborn, a son whom they named Gogol after the father’s favorite author. The name “Gogol” comes to represent to the boy everything that separates him from the mainstream of the America around him as he grows up. He hates the name, and ultimately changes it. The struggles he has with his name reflects the difficulties he has in coming to terms with family expectations versus his need for independence, with understanding his cultural heritage versus his need to identify himself as an American, and with his growing understanding and acceptance of his parents and the choices they made.
I found this book to be a fascinating account of cultural immersion. The descriptions of Gogol’s mother during her first years in America were poignant and very honestly described the experience of culture shock, the isolation of the new immigrant, the longing for “home,” and the slow adjustment to and assimilation of the new culture.
Gogol’s journey is also a very honest account of growing up as “second generation ” in an immigrant family, more American than his parents, but still perceived as “different” by American friends and colleagues. His struggles were not resolved by the end of the book, which I feel once again is an honest portrayal of that experience. Gogol will continue to struggle with defining his cultural identity throughout the rest of his life.
This was the third book I read for Callista’s Book-to-Movie challenge, and I’m looking forward to watching the movie version on DVD this week. We didn’t see it in the theaters because I wanted to read the book first. I’m glad I waited, but now I’m very anxious to see how the film compares to the book. I’m sure the film will add a wonderfully rich visual experience to my reading of the story of this Bengali family.