Book Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri



I’m just going to say what I feel absolutely must be said when reviewing this: The Namesake is the kind of book that makes you want to stop everything and call your parents. There’s no getting around it.

The novel follows the life of Nikhil “Gogol” Ganguli from his birth all the way to his 40th-ish birthday. Over the course of the novel he falls in love for the first time, experiences the death of a loved one, and enters a marriage, all while struggling to understand his identity as a Bengali-American.

I think what I enjoyed most about this book is that every character is deeply fleshed out. Gogol is obviously the main character, but Lahiri does not shy away from exploring the internal conflicts of his mother and father, Ashima and Ashoke. Both conflicts are fascinating in their own way and provide a peek into the lives of two new parents who are also struggling with being away from their homes in Bangladesh. I honestly wanted more of them. I could read an entire book from Ashima’s POV. This is perhaps the book’s strongest quality.

Another strength of the book is its pacing. Covering 40ish years in one novel feels impossible, but Lahiri handles it with so much tact and skill that it reads naturally. Her prose is strong and she has a fantastic way of using metaphor. I also loved just getting a chance to read a book that explores a culture that I would have never known otherwise. That’s one of my big things this year is to read more books by women and POC, because my ‘read’ shelf is surprisingly full of old white dudes.

I think the only issue I had with the book – and for me it is a big one – is the use of summarization. I know that ‘telling not showing’ is low-key kind of overrated, but there were a number of moments in the novel where I really think the story could have benefitted from more exploration of certain topics. I understand that to cover so much of one person’s life you must cut out some stuff, but I do think that if things were slowed down even just a little bit the book would have been on a whole other level.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book. This is perhaps one of the only novels I have been assigned to read in class, and liked so much I finished it before the required deadline. Gogol is a compelling character who you can easily sympathize with, and Lahiri knows how to work her prose. But, because of so much being glossed over or not explained I do have to rate it as a 3.5/5



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