Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday=Book Review Time--What's in a name?

Up for today: THE NAMESAKE by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake by Lahiri Lahiri: Book Cover

Why I bought it? I had heard some good things from online friends about Jhumpa Lahiri's writing and figured that since she had won the pulitzer prize for her collection of short stories she'd be a good bet. I wanted to read a novel rather than a collection of short stories that's why I chose The Namesake. I picked it up in paperback at the Barnes and Noble the last time I was in there.

Synopsis: It tells a story that crosses 3 generations of an Indian family. An arranged marriage. Moving to America. Tragedies. Triumphs. Trying to assimilate and retain their own traditions. As the story progresses the focus turns to Gogol Ganguli. The young son of immigrant parents and the process that brought him his name and how it affected him throughout his life. In school. In work. In his love life.

What I thought? The writing is phenomenal. Lahiri did an amazing job of showing the immigrant experience. I felt like I was right there glimpsing into the souls of the characters. In a lot of ways it was like a novel length short story. It circles around the idea of identity and how our names influence our actions and personalities. I almost didn't review this book this week because I was so upset and annoyed by parts of what happens. I couldn't figure out what rating I would give it. On one hand, I loved it. On the other hand, I hated it. I thought that I would just review the other book I read this week and be done with it, but last night I picked up my latest Reader's Digest, and there was an article about the new trends of picking baby names. It reminded me of a scene in the book and made me rethink avoiding this review. Obviously Lahiri is doing something right if she has me so up in arms over what is going on with her characters. I keep telling myself that it is not real. That these are fictional characters.

My Rating: **** out of 5 stars--it's what I've settled on for now. You can't know how that score has gone up and down. Maybe I should do like Natalie and quit giving number ratings. 

Cleanness Score: 7 out of 10, This was a much easier score to come up with. There wasn't much language, but there is some recreational drug use and several sexual encounters. They were not told in an erotic way, but they are there.  Those are the main reason for the score. Just so you know.

18 comments:

The Things We Carried said...

I loved the book and agree with you, I felt like I was seeing an intimate view of the immigrant experience.

She is an amazing writer.

Dominique said...

That sounds like an interesting article. What issue was it in?

Alyssa said...

I need to read this. I love everything about India! Sounds so good.

lotusgirl said...

TTWC, She is, isn't she?

Dominique, It should be the current one. I think I got it yesterday or the day before. It has the Best of America and Kelly Clarkson on the cover, but since I finished reading it, my husband tossed it in the trash, and today was street pick up day, so I don't have it to check the date.

A, India fascinates me too, and I have recently found that I love Indian food. You'd probably love it. It's very enlightening and literary.

scott g.f. bailey said...

I loved this book, but at times I did want to grab some of the characters by their collars and give them a good shake!

Danyelle said...

You do such awesome reviews!

lotusgirl said...

Scott, I know what you mean. There were several times I just wanted to give them a piece of my mind.

Danyelle, Thanks.

celeste said...

Love your reviews,whatever form of media! Really want to get out and pick this one up now that you've posted. Know the settings are different, but as I read your review I found myself thinking about Poisonwood Bible. Are there any similarities in the writing style of Barbara Kingsolver?

lotusgirl said...

Celeste, I hadn't made any connections with Poisonwood Bible in my mind while reading. It's been a long time since I read that.

The Orange Cat said...

She's got a good style, agreed.
But she's got nothing to say, nothing at all. There are at least a hundred writers writing on what they term the 'Indian diaspora'. They don't get that there ain't any diaspora any longer, its difficult to identify yourself as an Indian- or for that matter, a Pakistani, an American, a German, anything at all. You can be born an Indian and still be more French than someone who's lived in Paris all his life. It's the spirit of the nation, the inherent properties which have shaped its history over several centuries. Ms Lahiri's characters are very one-dimensional, or so I feel- she portrays them as being only bengalis, which is not really true.

And as for India- its not what The White Tiger shows either, and definitely not Slumdog Millionaire. Its more like what Wes Anderson showed in The Darjeeling Limited. There are stories just waiting to be unleashed from a million tiny 60 watt bulbs in the country. Its impossible to bracket a culture so simply as Mr Lahiri does.
Of course, all this is entirely my opinion, your review was succinctly excellent. I would suggest Ruksin Bond as well though.

scott g.f. bailey said...

Orange Cat: I agree that there are a lot of books out there now about the Indian culture clashing with that of the West, so many books that I'm feeling buried by them. "Yes, yes," I say, "India is different from England or America. What else is new?"

On the other hand, I think Lahiri's story is bigger than the immigrant experience, because one idea that I agree with is that Western culture, especially American culture, is essentially rootless. I don't know if America has a "national spirit" outside of consumerism and a false sense of individuality. In Lahiri's book, Gogol is as much an American as anyone else. His parents are outsiders, but he's not. Yet he remains rootless, because America is not a land of cultural depth and cultural identity. The historical weight of 200-some years is not great, and I think that many of us are yearning for some deeper connections as a people. Lahiri seems to argue in favor of family and immigrant culture; I don't know quite how I feel about that, but I certainly understand the desire.

Justus M. Bowman said...

I need to read more, or I won't be able to keep up with the conversations.

lotusgirl said...

Orange Cat, I didn't think this was speaking for all of India. It came across to me as one family's experiences. I'm open to checking out others. Thanks for the suggestions. I'll look into them. My exposure to India has been fairly limited in the past. I'd love to learn more about it. It's a huge country. I would think there would be huge differences from one region to another.

Scott, I agree in a lot of ways with your assessment of what Lahiri is saying, but I find that she overlooked some of the national roots that exist. There are especially regional roots that I think endure.

Justus, Hey, you could always just make stuff up. Heehee!

Pen Pen said...

THis sounds really good- I'm gonna put it on my list of books to buy! :)
--and I love ur rating system! U should keep it--It really does gauge for me whether I should invest or not(3 and over and I go for it)-
-and ur cleanliness scores are great too! I'm always surprised at how no books are rated, but EVERY movie is given a rating(tho I don't agree with how that's done-see the documentary- 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated' if u wanna know why I don't like it :).
I guess writing is considered my "artsy" and personal- unlike films where u go in and can't just "put it down" if it's too much- especially with kiddos. I don't want to be one to censor anyone, but I knew a girl when I was little who read 'Romance' novels like they were porn...that was kind disturbing-an 8 year old getting "into" that with something readily available-and she got them from the library--just strange...tho I dunno if it affected her to any extent...

lotusgirl said...

Pen Pen, I'm glad you like the reviews and find them helpful. That's disturbing about the 8 year old reading those kind of novels. I always thought it strange that books didn't have some kind of label so that people knew what was in them. I wouldn't rate them like movies though. I don't really like the system they have.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I've looked at this book and thought about reading it. I'm glad to hear you gave it a good review.

Lady Glamis said...

Lois, thank you for this review! I've wondered about this author. I think Davin has mentioned him a few times, and from what you write here, I've decided he's going on my list. I think that I read a review somewhere that this book was too much like a short story and didn't have enough of the novel elements it needed, but I can't remember where I read that or if it was this book, for sure.

Either way, I look forward to picking it up sometime! How do you get so much reading time in!?

Kelly H-Y said...

I hadn't heard of this one ... thanks for the heads-up and great review ... sounds like a must-read!