The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

#Book Review
Fiction| Diaspora| Family| Culture
Rating: 4.5

Sometimes I feel like the book chooses me rather me choosing it and The Namesake is one such book that precisely resonates with my current state of mind. A diasporic feeling of not belonging anywhere, a feeling of an identity crisis, and confused decisions. Jhumpa Lahiri in the Namesake perfectly captures the immigrant experiences and emotional turmoil of leaving behind your motherland, your families, and childhood friends to start a new life in a new country. 

This big move is a process of experiencing happy times, difficult times, and questionable times, which often involve uncertainty and fear. And of course, there’s always hope of things getting better as time passes. But there is never a time when we stop wondering “Was this the right decision?” 

Despite these numerous feelings, Ashima in the Namesake tries her best to adopt to the American lifestyle with her husband Ashoke. The Ganguli family makes new friends (Indian friends), spends weekends together and builds new bonds. They give birth to two kids, Gogol and Sonia. Ashima terribly misses her family when their son is born. She waits for years for her grandmother to send her a telegram naming the baby as it has been their age-old tradition. But when there’s no response, Gogol becomes the official name of their son.

The story progresses onto the lives of the kids and the vacations that they take – which is most of the time to India for festivals, for the loss of loved ones, for spending time with the family, or to stay connected to the familiarity of their culture and traditions. Gogol and Sonia find all of it hard to relate. But as they grow old, Gogol realizes the hardships that their parents had to face upon uprooting their life and leaving behind their family which he thinks is something that is impossible for him to do.

The Namesake is not story with a beginning or an end, it is an experience. A family that I got to know in a few pages of this book. I can see myself getting to know the Ganguli family if I ever lived on Pemberton Road, going through the same feelings of loneliness and trying to stay together and creating a mini India just to feel at home. Just to have that sense of familiarity and comfort. As I complete reading this book on my return flight from India to Pennsylvania, I fondly close the book and my eyes with a warm feeling, processing the emotions, and remembering all the times that I spent with my loved ones. I take these memories along to a new country that I now call my home. 

PS: The Namesake is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize. It’s very well-written and has an intriguing story that immigrants as well as non-immigrants will certainly find interesting to read. A definite must-read, I highly recommend!

What an uncomfortable feeling this is,
Restlessness, brain fog, uncertainty.
What kind of a choice is this that I need to make.
What is this guilt?
Should I find happiness in struggle?
Or live an oblivious and blissful life?
Why is it always so hard and painful to leave?

Overhear

Deep, longing notes,
A slow melody.
Stirring emotions,
Sadly beautiful.

Picking up pace,
Hurried but serious,
Like a wave,
Rushing and reaching
Towards an unknown.

Confused thrumming of strings
Discovering and learning,
Experimenting even..
But never hesitating.

A sound of a human voice,
Calling, reaching out.
Smooth and blessed
Sounds like harmony.
A peaceful rhythm.

Stay

I have tried and tried
So many times,
To win your heart,
To make you smile.
But every time I try,
In your fright, you
– hide and cry.
I continue to wait with a sigh!
Will it take days or ages?
Come and stop by my side.

To Do or Not to Do

Day 86

The days pass like a drifting leaf..

The time keeps leaving me behind.

With an upraised arm I run after,

Presuming it would wait.

When the realisation dawns on what is lost,

I scowl and settle on a plan of action,

To not fritter my time away.

But then again,

A confused, lazy thought perches

On my rational brain.

It longs for an aimless, uneventful day.

And so, I let my mind wander away.

Ah, so easy it is to do nothing but stare.

While my unread books,

Unfinished work,

Unanswered mails,

And gym awaits.

Forever Confused

Day 84

There’s a fear, some constant kind of worry.

Where do I begin?

What do I put my finger on,

To understand what’s bothering me.

To start off with – there’s uncertainty.

Towards where do I guide my life’s story?

All along is but a hazy endless path.

Then there’s overthinking about life.

The purpose and plan –

To make it worthwhile.

But nothing ever seems to be right.

Same old question begins to rise,

What’s the goddamn meaning of life?

Rambling

Day 44

Intimidating pressures of the world,

Tire the innocence of the soul.

Uninterrupted flow of thoughts,

Disturb the calmness of the mind.

Looking up at the sky,

Seeking for simplicity of life.