Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri has written a novel about immigration - demonstrating the variety of reactions to the difficulties faced when trying to live in a different culture. When Ashima and Ashoke leave their families in India to settle in America, Ashima finds it difficult to feel comfortable in her new country while Ashobe, with his work to occupy much of his time, has fewer problems. Gradually they build up a support group of other Bengali families living in America with whom to celebrate special events that would normally be shared with family. They also return to Calcutta every few years to maintain their ties with family in India. However their two children, Gogol and Sonia, who are born and educated in America, find the trips back to India confronting.

Much of the novel revolves around the experiences of Gogol, later Nikhil, as he struggles to live in two cultures and also discover who he really is and what he wants from his life. Perhaps this summed up towards the end of the book:
He had spent years maintaining distance from his origins; his parents, in bridging, that distance as best they could. And yet, for all his aloofness toward his family in the past, his years at college and then in New York, he has always hovered close to this quiet, ordinary town that had remained, for his mother and father, stubbornly exotic. (page 281)

This beautifully written book also looks at the importance of names when establishing our own identity. Although the book is set in the United States and India the situations explored could also apply to immigrant groups living in Australia or any other country.

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