My balcony, my cherries and I just finished reading for the second time Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake.
Although this second reading has revealed some flaws in the novel (minor inconsistencies, some events I found difficult to believe in), it has left me the same sweet and melancholy feeling than when I first read it.
The Namesake is a novel about accidents, and their consequences. From the literal accident of the main character’s father that almost left him dying derives the figurative accident of that character’s impossible name: Gogol Ganguli. Gogol is born to Bengali parents in the United States and the novel unrolls his struggle to make sense of his complex identity in-between two cultures and to deal with a name that no one else in the world shares, “not even the source of his namesake”; a name that always causes people to pause in polite surprise.
Gogol’s parents, Bengali immigrants to the United States, have quite a hard time adapting to America’s ways, especially the mother. But when they return to India, they feel out of place, as if their home city were suddenly foreign. Along with the question of identity, Lahiri develops a reflexion on “where and what home is”, a recurrent topic in novels dealing with immigration.Spanning a little bit more than three decades, Lahiri’s novel invites the reader to ponder upon how identities are built, how accidents mould our lives, lending them as much absurdity as they give them coherence, if we pay enough attention to details. Perhaps that’s why the novel is written in the present tense throughout: to suggest that life is lived in the present, that it is in the present that we can see the details that matter.