The Namesake

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Reason read: Vasant Panchami is a holiday celebrated in India to mark the coming of spring. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of “a PPL Book of the Week pick.”

While this is the story of Gogol Ganguli, first we must start from the beginning. Perspective must be established. Before Gogol’s birth and as a Bengali Indian keeping with her culture, Ashima Ganguli comes to the United State to partake in an arranged marriage. By 1968, Ashima has only been in Cambridge, Massachusetts for eighteen months before becoming pregnant with her first child. This is where Lahiri first draws attention to the many differences between American and Indian practices and this is where Gogol’s life begins; in this state of conflicting cultures. But back to Ashima. The first evidence of cultural confusion: the fact women in Bengali do not give birth in a cold, sterile hospital. They birth in the warm and comforting home their parents. Gogol is out of place even before he has been born. Then a subtle example of cultural ignorance: once Ashima is in labor the nurse cannot figure out how to fold Ashima’s six yards of silk sari. Most importantly (and the crux of the story), Indian parents do not choose the name of their child on a whim. It is this last detail that sets the stage for Gogol’s life story: the importance of identity; the necessity of belonging; the eventual learning to compromise in order to belong in harmony. We follow Gogol through childhood into manhood as he navigates relationships with his family, love interests, and homeland.

As an aside, when Lahiri mentions the Boston Globe story about Andrew Wyeth and his Helga paintings it grounded me to time and place.

Lines I really liked, “American seconds tick on top of her pulse point” (p 4) and “If there is nothing decent on television she leafs through books she has taken out of out the library, books that occupy the space Ashoke normally does on the bed” (p 163). This last quote struck me because I do the same thing when my partner is away.

Author fact: Lahiri is American, but her parents are Indian immigrants from West Bengal.

Book trivia: The Namesake, New York Times bestseller, was made into a movie. Of course I have not seen it. Yet.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Namesake is slightly less depressing than Mukherjee’s Jasmine.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Immigrant Experience” (p 123).


interpreter of maladies

Lahiri, Jhumpa. interpreter of maladies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

“Interpreter of Maladies” is all about human nature and how perceptions can change in the blink of an eye. Mr. Kapasi is a Indian tour guide with a second job as a interpreter for a medical center. While chauffeuring a family of Americans around he shares this information and explains that since he is multilingual he is able to interpret the patient’s malady to the doctor and the doctor’s remedy back to the patient. He has never thought about this occupation as being anything more than that until the mother of the family compliments him and shows an interest in his work. Mr Kapasi is at first flattered and his head soon fills with a fantasy involving the mother. This fantasy grows until she shares a terrible secret with him. Everything changes. The woman he once admired and fantasized about is nothing more than a dumb tourist.

“A Temporary Matter” is such a sad story! Plain and simple it’s about a marriage. Their relationship is young, only four years old, but it is damaged by the stillbirth of their first child. As with any couple devastated by the loss of a child, they each handle the tragedy differently. The one thing they have in common is a mutual pulling away from one another. When the electric company sends notice that their electricity will be cut for one hour each night for five days they look forward to the darkness; of not being able to see one another. It’s during this dark period that secrets come out and it seems like their relationship can be turned around.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month

Author fact: Lahiri has also written a book, The Namesake, that was made into a movie.

Book trivia: Interpreter of Maladies has won a Pulitzer, a PEN/Hemingway, a New Yorker Debut and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Addison Metcalf Award.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 103).