An Indian-American immigrant named after a Russian writer struggles to find his place in the world.
I know the month is only 2 days young, but The Namesake might be my favorite read of October. Sprawling and intimate, Gogol Ganguli’s story riveted me in a way that I wish Zadie Smith’s White Teeth had. Though perhaps that’s just that I’m an American and not British. I found Gogol’s world and struggles to be accessible, and I connected with him even though he’s very different from me. That didn’t happen with any of the characters in White Teeth.
I have some context for “knowing” Gogol. A very close friend of mine from college is first-generation Indian-American, and she and I used to bond over our family’s strict expectations of us: I was supposed to marry another churchgoing Christian, and she was supposed to marry a nice Indian boy. As soon as possible, of course. Both of us had strong ambitions to be much more than married, and chafed against the box we felt we were being put in by dint of our culturally-specific upbringings. We ended up getting married within 6 weeks of one another, when we were 30. I met a nice young man at church and brought him to my friend’s traditional Hindi wedding. Needless to say, we both made our parents very proud and all we had to do was fall in love!
Anyway, I don’t really know how similar my friend’s upbringing was to Gogol’s, or if I’m making a gross generalization by drawing the comparison. I did keep looking for her in Gogol, or in his sister, or in Moushumi. And when the big Indian wedding scene came, it took me back to my friend’s wedding, and how beautiful she looked in her saris with the mendhi on her arms, laden with jewels, and the rituals of the Hindi ceremony. We all wore saris, too, and her little cousins showed us how to dance to the Indian pop music at the reception. I don’t know what that day was like for her, but after reading The Namesake I think that she probably had more going on inside than I did on my wedding day.
Back to Gogol Ganguli. I can’t praise Lahiri’s writing enough. I loved every word she wrote, and even stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. Given that I’m 8 months pregnant and exhausted, this is pretty high praise. And I’ve heard great things about the movie, so it’s going to the top of my Netflix queue.
Thanks to frequent commenter Adler Fleiger for issuing a challenge that I read a book by an Indian author.