Overview: The Namesake

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Editor: Sara Constantakis
From: Novels for Students(Vol. 31. )
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Work overview
Length: 5,282 words

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Introduction

Jhumpa Lahiri's second book, The Namesake, was published in the United States in 2003. The book was well received by critics and highly anticipated. This anticipation was based on Lahiri's first book, the Pulitzer prize-winning collection of short stories titled Interpreter of Maladies. Like its predecessor, The Namesake explores issues of the Indian American immigrant experience and the corresponding anxieties of assimilation (conforming) and exile. From these themes of dual nationality, the question of identity arises, and this theme is further underscored by the main character's dual names. The strength of familial bonds in the midst of this cultural quandary is also addressed.

To this end, The Namesake portrays the Ganguli family over a course of thirty-two years. It follows Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli from shortly after their emigration from Calcutta, India, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the late 1960s. The story then follows the couple as their children are born and raised in the United States. It is their struggles, particularly those of the eldest son, Gogol, that comprise the bulk of the story. Notably, the novel's deft and sensitive handling of the immigrant experience has caused it to be featured in school curriculums throughout the United States.

Plot

1.

1968

Ashima Ganguli is nearly nine months pregnant with her first child. She is in her apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her husband, Ashoke, is studying for his doctorate in engineering in the next room. Ashima's labor begins, and the couple takes a taxi to the hospital. After Ashima has checked in, Ashoke leaves her there and promises to return. Ashima has been in the United States for a year and a half, leaving Calcutta immediately following her arranged marriage to Ashoke. Alone at the hospital, Ashima is afraid to raise her child in America. By four o'clock the following morning, Ashima has reached the final stages of her labor, and Ashoke returns to the hospital, where he sits in the waiting room.

He paces and thinks of the fateful train accident that has brought him to this moment. As an undergraduate student in India, Ashoke had been on a train on his way to visit his grandfather. There, he met a businessman who had traveled the world, returning to India only because his wife was homesick. The man told Ashoke that returning was his greatest regret, and he urged Ashoke to travel. Shortly afterward, while Ashoke was rereading Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat," a favorite short story by his favorite author, the train crashed. The businessman beside him was killed, and Ashoke lay immobile in the wreckage with the torn and crumpled pages of his book. When the rescuers arrived, they noticed him only because the pages were moving in the breeze. It was a year before he was able to walk again, and during his long recovery, Ashoke thought constantly of the businessman's advice. Seven years have passed and he still credits Nikolai Gogol for saving his life.

2.

The baby is a boy. All of the Bengali friends...

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1430006929