The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Valerie’s review

Adored the author’s use of language. It was smooth, like a sauce that mixes all the food flavors together. At times I hardly noticed the words as they carried me through the story of two Bengali-American generations.

I thought the female author writing a male voice was uncanny. She did it well, although I noticed a glossing over of testosterone urges toward sex and violence that I’ve seen exhibited more graphically by male writers, particularly when describing adolescence.

I will never think of a train ride the same again, nor Russian writers. I guess now I should read Gogol (The Overcoat).

Descriptions of all the Indian food made me very hungry.

Nikhil was such a lovable character who just went with the flow of the story, though at times it felt like he was merely a puppet that the author created to play with, in a way. The author made him experience a variety of things both pleasurable and bittersweet: love and rejection and career choices and death that we all encounter.

What I think made this story a bestseller is the way the author addresses the American way of life, as seen by an immigrant community. The heartrending pull between the old country and the new life is described in detail, with unromantic details of the family’s visits to India and the poignant culture gap between the American children and their India-born parents.

Mike’s response

It was almost exactly 8 years ago that I read this (which I remember because I lived in Tempe at the time and that was one summer long), so I can’t say much, but I absolutely loved this book at the time. I remember finishing it on a playground, alone and bawling my eyes out. I think my girlfriend at the time had left for a couple weeks and I was alone working at a Circle K on the graveyard shift (did I mention that I finished it at dawn?) and was pretty much all around miserable. I remember finishing it and then sitting on a swing or the top of a slide and trying desperately to fall in love with the photo of Jhumpa Lahiri in the back cover. (That all seems very unbelievable and it may well be that I’m imagining it; often I create stories that become memories. I think we all do it, but I’m pretty aware of doing so myself. And my stories tend to be rather grander than many people’s. But I think this one may be true. Maybe.) Ah, to be 20 and have each fleck of dirt seem world-altering again.

I did not notice “a glossing over of testosterone urges toward sex and violence,” which, as a male, I would think I’d be more prone to noticing though I was a bit of a romantic at the time and it is possible I was in something like denial about maleness.

I remember the descriptions of food. Not any one in particular, but I remember being floored in general. Describing food in a way that doesn’t seem overwrought and silly is hard. Way hard. And she does it wonderfully. I was constantly hungry. Thinking about reading the book makes me want Indian food. That’s how goddamned good at it Lahiri is.

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