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Mateo Bell
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Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake: A Guide to the Characters, Themes, and Symbols

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: A Review

If you are looking for a captivating and insightful novel that explores the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, and the search for identity, you might want to check out The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. This book tells the story of Gogol Ganguli, a second-generation Indian American who struggles to find his place in the world. In this article, I will give you a brief overview of what the book is about, who the author is, and why the book is called The Namesake. I will also discuss the plot, the themes, and my personal opinion of the book.

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What is The Namesake about?

The Namesake is a novel that spans over three decades, from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. It follows the life of Gogol Ganguli, the son of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, who immigrated from Calcutta to Massachusetts in the 1960s. Gogol is named after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, whose short story The Overcoat saved Ashoke's life in a train accident. However, Gogol grows up resenting his name and his heritage, and tries to reinvent himself as Nikhil, an Americanized version of himself. He goes through various phases of identity crisis, cultural confusion, and romantic turmoil, as he tries to figure out who he is and where he belongs.

Who is Jhumpa Lahiri?

Jhumpa Lahiri is an acclaimed author of Indian origin who was born in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is known for her short stories and novels that depict the lives of Indian immigrants and their children in America. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000 for her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies. She also wrote another collection of stories, Unaccustomed Earth, and another novel, The Lowland. She has also written in Italian and translated her own works into English. She currently lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Why is the book called The Namesake?

The book is called The Namesake because it explores the significance of names and how they shape our identity. Gogol's name is a source of embarrassment and alienation for him, as he feels that it does not reflect his true self or his cultural background. He also feels burdened by the legacy of his namesake, Nikolai Gogol, who was a tormented and eccentric writer. He tries to change his name to Nikhil, but he realizes that a name alone cannot change his essence or his history. He also learns more about his father's connection to Gogol's works and how they influenced his life choices. By the end of the book, Gogol comes to appreciate his name and what it represents.

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The plot of The Namesake

The birth of Gogol Ganguli

The book begins with the birth of Gogol in a hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1968. His parents, Ashoke and Ashima, are anxious to receive a letter from Ashima's grandmother in Calcutta, who has the responsibility of choosing a name for their son. However, the letter never arrives, and they have to pick a name for the birth certificate. Ashoke decides to name him Gogol, after his favorite writer, Nikolai Gogol. He does not tell anyone that he survived a train accident in India when he was reading Gogol's The Overcoat, and that this event inspired him to move to America and pursue his engineering career.

The childhood and adolescence of Gogol

Gogol grows up in a suburban town near Boston, where he attends a public school and makes friends with other American kids. He is unaware of the meaning of his name and the story behind it, until he reads The Overcoat for a school assignment. He is shocked and disturbed by the dark and absurd tale, and by the fact that Nikolai Gogol suffered from mental illness and burned most of his manuscripts before dying. He also learns that his name is not his official name, but his pet name, which is a common practice in Bengali culture. His official name is Nikhil, which his parents chose for him when he was six months old, but he never used it. He starts to hate his name and wishes he had a normal name like his sister Sonia, who was born when he was four years old.

The adulthood and relationships of Gogol

When Gogol turns 18, he legally changes his name to Nikhil and goes to Yale University to study architecture. He hopes that by changing his name, he can also change his identity and escape his past. He dates various women, but none of them last long. He meets Maxine Ratliff, a wealthy and sophisticated New Yorker, who introduces him to a lifestyle that is very different from his parents'. He moves in with her and becomes estranged from his family. However, when his father dies of a heart attack, he is devastated and returns home for the funeral. He realizes how much he loves and misses his family, and how much he owes to his father. He breaks up with Maxine and tries to reconnect with his roots.

He then meets Moushumi Mazoomdar, a fellow Bengali American who was once a family friend. They have a lot in common, as they both rebelled against their parents' expectations and pursued their passions. Gogol is an architect and Moushumi is a PhD student in French literature. They get married and seem happy for a while, but they soon drift apart. Moushumi feels bored and restless in her marriage, and she has an affair with an old friend from Paris. Gogol finds out and they divorce.

Gogol is now 32 years old and single again. He visits his mother in Massachusetts, who tells him that she is moving back to Calcutta with Sonia, who is engaged to an American man named Ben. She gives him a copy of The Overcoat that belonged to his father, and tells him the story of the train accident and how his name saved his father's life. Gogol is moved by this revelation and feels closer to his father than ever. He also feels a new respect for his name and his heritage. He decides to read the book that shaped his destiny.

The themes of The Namesake

Identity and belonging

One of the main themes of the book is identity and belonging. The book explores how Gogol's name influences his sense of self and his relationship with others. Gogol's name is a symbol of his dual identity: he is both Indian and American, but he does not feel fully accepted or comfortable in either culture. He tries to fit in with both worlds, but he always feels like an outsider or a misfit. He also tries to change his identity by changing his name, but he realizes that he cannot escape his past or his roots.

The book also shows how identity is shaped by family, history, culture, and love. Gogol's identity is influenced by his parents' immigration story, their traditions and values, their hopes and dreams for him, and their love for him. His identity is also influenced by his romantic partners, who expose him to different aspects of himself and challenge him to grow as a person.

Culture and tradition

Article with HTML formatting (continued) and belonging, culture and tradition, and family and love. It also shows how names and stories can shape our destiny and our legacy.

Personal opinion and recommendation

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Namesake very much. I found it to be well-written, engaging, and insightful. I liked how the author used a simple and elegant style to convey complex and profound emotions and ideas. I also liked how the author created realistic and relatable characters that made me care about their struggles and their joys. I also liked how the author explored various aspects of the immigrant experience and the human condition, without being judgmental or preachy. I think this book is relevant and meaningful for anyone who has ever felt torn between two cultures, two worlds, or two selves.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes literary fiction, multicultural fiction, or family sagas. I think this book would appeal to readers who are interested in learning more about the Indian American culture, the Bengali culture, or the Russian literature. I think this book would also appeal to readers who are looking for a captivating and insightful story that will make them think and feel.


Here are some frequently asked questions about The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri:

  • Is The Namesake based on a true story?

  • No, The Namesake is not based on a true story. However, it is partly inspired by the author's own experiences as an Indian American and as a fan of Nikolai Gogol. The author has said that she chose the name Gogol for her protagonist because she felt a connection to the Russian writer and his works.

  • Is The Namesake a movie?

  • Yes, The Namesake was adapted into a movie in 2006, directed by Mira Nair and starring Kal Penn as Gogol, Irrfan Khan as Ashoke, Tabu as Ashima, and Jacinda Barrett as Maxine. The movie received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike.

  • What is the significance of The Overcoat in The Namesake?

  • The Overcoat is a short story by Nikolai Gogol that plays a crucial role in The Namesake. It is the story that Ashoke was reading when he survived a train accident in India, and it is the story that inspired him to name his son Gogol. It is also the story that Gogol reads for a school assignment and hates. It is a story about a poor clerk named Akaky Akakievich who saves money to buy a new overcoat, but loses it to thieves. He dies of cold and despair, but his ghost haunts the city and steals overcoats from others. The story is considered to be a masterpiece of Russian literature and a satire of social injustice.

  • What is the significance of the train in The Namesake?

  • The train is a symbol of fate and change in The Namesake. It is the train that causes Ashoke's near-death experience in India, which motivates him to move to America and start a new life. It is also the train that brings Ashoke and Ashima together in an arranged marriage. It is also the train that Gogol takes to visit his parents in Massachusetts, where he learns about his father's death and his name's origin. It is also the train that Moushumi takes to meet her lover in New York, which leads to her divorce from Gogol.

  • What are some other books similar to The Namesake?

  • If you liked The Namesake, you might also like these books:

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A novel about two Nigerian immigrants who face different challenges and opportunities in America and England.

  • Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier: A novel about an Indian American teenager who struggles with her identity, her culture, and her love life.

  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: A novel about four Chinese American women and their mothers who share their stories of love, loss, and hope.

  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: A novel about two Afghan boys who grow up in a turbulent and war-torn country.

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: A novel about a Dominican American nerd who dreams of becoming a writer and finding love.



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