14 May, 2010

'The Namesake' - Life of Indian immigrants in US - [Book review]

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'The Namesake' is an excellent novel written by 'Jhumpa Lahiri', who is a well known author and Pulitzer award winner. Her style of writing is different and she excels in explaining characters and their emotions in different layers and different perspectives. The first book written by her 'Interpreter of Maladies' is also a nice read. It is a collection of short stories.

Book Details:

Title: The Namesake
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Mariner Books Classics
Print length: 336 pages

Purchase Link: 


My Review:

       The story of Namesake is basically about a couple from Calcutta who settle in U.S, their experiences, their attempts to retain the roots of Indian culture and also to adapt US culture for the sake of their children. It also explains the conflicts that arise between Indian parents and their children grown up in U.S.

       Ashok and Ashima are basically from a joint family background and so it is difficult for them to adapt to US culture. In India, they were always surrounded by people; they used to celebrate festivals together with all family members. They used to live with elder family members, respect them, and take their advice in everything they do. Their marriage also happened only after the consent of their families. It was not their choice to marry one another. So, we could understand that family and Bengali culture have become integral parts of their lives. So, they try to create a small Bengali world in US. They celebrate festivals and poojas together with Bengali families.

       Ashima misses her family much when she is pregnant. As a young woman who didn’t move outside Calcutta in her life until her marriage, it is very difficult for her to cope up with things like taking care of a baby by herself. At one point, after her delivery, she tells Ashoke “I don’t want to raise Gogol alone in this country. It’s not right”. Somehow, she manages to bring up their children in US. Still, she tries to make their children know Indian culture and participate in Pujas etc., She carefully collects his father’s paintings sent through post and make Gogol play with them. She wants her children to know about their family in India. She doesn’t like when Sonia wants to cut her hair till jaws.

         As story moves forward Ashoke and Ashima change themselves to a large extent for their children. They celebrate Christmas only to make their children happy even though they are not Christians. They celebrate Thanks giving day too. Whenever they throw Gogol’s birthday parties, they invite his American school friends and serve them western food. When Gogol brings Maxine and her family to home, Ashima welcomes them and makes them feel comfortable even though she doesn’t like Gogol’s relationship with Maxine.

         Gogol and Sonia, as they were brought up in US, don’t feel a homely bond to India as their parents do. Gogol wants to be an American. Both of them don’t like to be in Bengali parties, get together with Bengali families and they don’t look forward to long trips to India. But, after his father’s death, Gogol understands the guilt that their parents carried inside, at being able to do nothing when their parents had died in India. He even appreciates his father’s courage to come to US and settle.

        Ashoke and Ashima gave more freedom to their children, because of which Gogol and Sonia don’t face much conflict. They were allowed to pursue the career in whatever way they wanted. Usually this may not be the case for many couples who move from India and settle in US. They won’t give much freedom to their children and force them to follow Indian culture, which brings constant conflicts between children and parents.

          I feel, it requires more confidence and courage to settle somewhere else which is not the country where we are born/ grew up. Adapting the culture of other country is most important of everything. We should have an open mind to understand foreign culture and accept things. Naturally, our behavior will get influenced by the religion and the society we were born/ grown up. So, it is not easy to retain roots and still accept a new culture. 

Another point is to get away with the insecure feeling that we are immigrant. Sometimes, local residents of country may look down to you, or tease or doesn’t help much. Couples who leave for other countries for professional reasons are fine until they get children. When it comes to children, they want to make them understand and respect their own culture, so few people will think of leaving their children with their grandparents in home town for basic studies to expose them to their country environment. They cannot accept their children to completely become a foreigner adapted to the new culture, forgetting their religion and culture.

Until next time..

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