torstai 30. lokakuuta 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri: The Namesake

"What is the reason you wish to change your name, Mr. Ganguli?" the judge asks.
The question catches him off-guard, and for several seconds he has no idea what to say. "Personal reasons," he says eventually.
The judge looks at him, leaning forward, her chin cupped in her hand. "Would you care to be more specific?"

A Bengali couple, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, immigrate from India to the United States in the 1960s. A son is born and, after some confusion, he is named Gogol after his father's favourite author, Nikolai Gogol, whose short story, The Overcoat, quite literally saves his father's life in a train accident.

Gogol Ganguli does not know the story behind his name and grows up hating it, attempting to reject and deny everything it represents - his family's past culture in India and all the traditions his parents would like to pass on to him. Eventually, he goes on to officially change his name in an attempt to cast off his inherited identity. Of course, identities are not formed and rejected as easily as that and Gogol faces with many obstacles, regrets and discoveries as he struggles to accept who he is or could be.

The novel follows Gogol and his family's struggles, their everyday joys and tragedies and their individual stories as they live and work in the United States. From Dr. Seuss books to Ben & Jerry's ice cream, American culture is juxtaposed, but also freely mixed and combined with Indian Kathakali performances and aloo gobi dishes.

Jhumpa Lahiri's prose is catchy, light and entertaining, and the novel is very similar in style to Hanif Kureishi's novels which also often deal with second-generation immigrants searching for their identity.

A word of warning: Do not watch the film The Namesake (directed by Mira Nair) - at least not before reading the entire book! In my opinion, the film is an oversimplified, stripped version of the same story and, frankly, not that great. It seems to be a much more rushed and edited version of the story - preserving little of its original mood and none of its depth.

Jhumpa Lahiri: The Namesake. Harper Perennial. 2003. 291 pages.

[Romaanin suomennos, Kaima, ilmestyi vuonna 2005 Tammen kustantamana. Suomennos on Kersti Juvan käsialaa.]

NYTimes/Michiko Kakutani: "From Calcutta to Suburbia: A Family's Perplexing Journey"
Wikipedia: The Namesake
Wikipedia: Jhumpa Lahiri

See also:

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