THE NAMESAKE follows the Ganguli family through its journey from Calcutta to Cambridge. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli arrive in America at the end of the 1960s, shortly after their arranged marriage in Calcutta. Ashoke is forward-thinking, ready to enter into American culture if not fully at least with an open mind. His young bride is far less malleable. Isolated, desperately missing her large family back in India, she will never be at peace with this new world.
Soon after they arrive in Cambridge, their first child is born, a boy. According to Indian custom, the child will be given two names: an official name, to be bestowed by the great-grandmother, and a pet name to be used only by family. But the letter from India with the child's official name never arrives, and so the baby's parents decide on a pet name to use for the time being. His child will be known, then, as Gogol.
I absolutely adored this novel :)
The storyline is so simple: you follow the life of our protagonist, Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, from the minute he is born…actually, from before he is even born. You watch as he grows older and struggles with trying to find his identity. He is an American-born Indian constantly having to find a balance between his life as an American and his family’s Indian values/culture. I think, as a Puerto Rican born in the U.S., I absolutely related to this character, and I believe that there are a lot of people in my generation who would also relate.
One of the best aspects of this novel is its insight into Indian culture. I love reading about the different kinds of foods that are cooked for specific occasions, and even how an Indian wedding is performed. It was so interesting.
But my favorite part of the book – hands down – is the idea that our names are so much more important to our identity than we realize. The entire novel basically starts with a letter that gets lost in the mail; a letter that contained what Gogol’s name should have been. When it got lost, his parents were forced to decide his name by themselves. And you have to wonder, how different would he have been (in his life and his identity) had he just been given the name he was supposed to have? Such an awesome concept!
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, and I can’t wait to rent the movie!