Often, when we start reading a new author, we take some time to warm up to the writing style. It has been like that for me since childhood. The first few pages are some sort of invisible probationary period. Even though this was my first book of Jhumpa Lahiri, from the first page onwards I felt like I have been reading her for years. The narration was slow, smoothly sliding from Ashok to Ashima to Gogol to Moushmi, and then back to Gogol. The relative ease with which the author changes the narrator, without actually changing the narration is exquisite, something which I could marvel at and aspire for.
The book revolves around the strange name given by his parents to the protagonist – Gogol and shows how much he hates his name through adolescence, promptly changing it officially as he reaches 18 years and once changed, quietly missing the name given by his parents. I could perfectly relate to the teenage issues when the protagonist goes through a phase where he is actually ashamed of his Indian parents and upbringing in front of his American girlfriends. There are times when I resented Gogol, the main character of the book because he was so ungrateful to his parents. But things took quite a turn when Ashok (Gogol’s father) dies just like that and after that incident we see him engulfed in sadness and remorse that our heart literally aches for him. The way his relationship with his mother and sister evolves afterwards is depicted beautifully, spreading warmth throughout our mind.
The story also narrates Gogol’s adventures in love, and how at each stage he finds women who feels right to him at the time. We can resonate with the jitters and butterflies in stomach and quiet contemplations of adolescent love, and heartaches and lost love. It was ironic that he ends up marrying an Indian woman, and that they were set up by his mother. We can see Gogol coming back to his Indian roots in the long run, after years of loathing them as he grew up in the US. The relationship between Gogol and Moushmi bloomed beautifully and I was kind of disappointed when it ended. As the book ends with Ashima leaving America, we get that nostalgic feeling of leaving a hostel room after many years which we hated at first and became a home away from home. Melancholy feelings surfaced as he takes that book to read finally, his present from his dad – Nicholai Gogol’s short stories. There is so much depth in that moment – the unspoken feelings, the regrets, the guilt of not connecting with his father more when he was alive, and all those beautiful memories. As Gogol tries to connect with his dead father through the book which he gave him, why can’t we connect with our living parents when we have the chance? Why don’t we make them happy, agree with them more and stop acting like we are too complicated for them to understand? After all, we were/are their lifelines, why don’t we make them our lifelines?
‘The Namesake’ is an ordinary story written extraordinarily – it is an art in the form of a book.