Alright – let’s get literary.
I just recently finished reading The Namesake, so I figured I try to tie it all together in one post before attacking each individual facet of its writing.
Firstly, I’ll afford you a breif synopsis of the novel (if you want something more in depth, feel free to put your faith in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Namesake)
Jhumpra Lahiri’s The Namesake is about an Indian boy (and later, a man) named Gogol (and later, Nikhil) Ganguli. The novel follows him throughout the course of his life, for over thirty years. From his parent’s arranged marriage and immigration to America, his subsequent birth and childhood and beyond, The Namesake describes all that influences Gogol’s life. Throughout, he is caught between two worlds: the traditional Indian lifestyle from which his parents hail, and the American culture into which he is born.
Gogol’s struggle is furthered by that for which the novel is named: his namesake. The name Gogol is neither Indian nor American – it is Russian. Gogol is named for Nikolai Gogol, the Russian author of whom Gogol’s father was particularly fond. However, Gogol’s naming was not meant to be so – a mishap led to his parents having to choose his name, rather than his grandmother, as is customary in their culture.
And so he is Gogol. And so it follows him for his entire life, marking him as neither Indian nor American, never to belong. Gogol fights this for the first 18 years of his life, until he leaves for university. It is at this point he legally changes his name to Nikhil (a “good” name his parents attempted to bestow upon Gogol when he started school, but one that the then-5 year old would have none of).
By assuming this new identity, Gogol’s life changes, but he is still bound to that old, Gogol-ladden life, reminded whenever he speaks to his parents. He will never be able to fully cast it off.
I’ll refrain from going into tiny details of the book here, as I know some of you have read it. Instead, I’d like to comment on (as previosly mentioned) the novel as a whole.
The Namesake is a very dense book, it that it covers over thirty years, in a reasonable amount of detail, in a mere 291 pages. I found this led to it feeling like I had read more than I actually had – which is fairly impressive, because the text doesn’t feel too oversaturated as you’re reading it. It’s only after you feel like you’ve read thirty pages and it turns out to have only been ten. All the same, the book was interesting in this respect.
Because it was detailed as such, the reader (or at least, me) was presented with a very comprehensive view into Gogol Ganguli’s life. And one of the biggest things I noticed about Gogol’s life, was that it lacked independent direction.
In my mind, I’ve likened Gogol’s life to a very large canvas. Gogol himself perhaps makes some light, pencil outlines on this canvas, but is his family, his friends, and the people he meet who fill it with colour and life.
Many of the great events in Gogol’s life are not driven by him. They are born out of interaction or a relationship with somebody else. Where Gogol’s life takes him is often dependent on who he is close with at that moment in time. I’ll go into detail on some examples of this in later posts.
Gogol’s life truly is a concerto, with multiple movements of varying emotion and intensity, orchestrated by him, but played by an symphony of many.