[(review date 19 December 2003) In the following review, Ruddy outlines the strengths and weaknesses of The Namesake.]
Fred Lynn and Jhumpa Lahiri likely have never heard of one another. Lynn, the former Boston Red Sox centerfielder, broke into the Major Leagues and helped lead his team to the 1975 World Series, where they lost in seven games, of course. An outstanding fielder who could hit for power and for average, he accomplished the then-unprecedented feat of wining both the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player awards in the same year.
With stories of love and dislocation set in Boston (and India), Jhumpa Lahiri has had a similarly spectacular debut. One of her first stories won the O. Henry Award and was included in the Best American Short Stories, while the New Yorker anointed her one of its twenty best young American fiction writers. Her first book, a collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. How does--how can--one top that?
The Namesake, her first novel, should remove any doubts about her gifts. Marked by a keen eye and ear, her bildungsroman follows Gogol Ganguli, an American-born son of Bengali immigrants, from birth to marriage and beyond. Named after Nikolai Gogol, the Russian author beloved by his father, he feels the twin pulls of his parents' heritage and of American culture. On weekends, his suburban Massachusetts childhood is filled with large Bengali parties, as well as the music of Bob Dylan and The Who....