Book Note: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I’m exploring a different template for doing book notes – bear with me.

I want these posts to give interested readers an idea of what the book itself is about and my personal response to reading it. Ideally, this would happen in no more than 600 words – 500 would be even better. I considered giving out stars or thumbs up or high fives or raisins but that’s hard enough for me to do on Goodreads so if you like that system better, find me over there as Rebecca Vincent. I’m not writing or aspiring to write book reviews for The Paris Reivew or The New Yorker so hopefully something plain and simple will work for now.

Here’s my first attempt – let’s see how it goes!


The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri

Readers follow a boy named Gogol navigating dual identities – some inherited, others chosen – from birth to mid-life. While the book includes common themes of family, love, failure, and loss, it is the theme of seeking, accepting, and/or shedding identities that surfaces time and again.

I am drawn to stories of intercultural adjustment and challenge, but this one, though clearly about an immigrant family adjusting to life in the U.S., has broader implications. Even if you haven’t moved to another country, you might connect with the protagonist’s dislike of his name, how he adopts behaviors and mindsets for the sake of love, or how he rebels against the restraints and mandates of his parents. Did you find yourself happily situated in your skin or did you eventually revert back to what was familiar or find a balance between the poles?

The pace and writing is so good that it went unnoticed. I never felt like it was dragging, but nor did I ever get to the point of feeling so overwhelmed by information, events, vocabulary or dialogue that I had to stop to catch up. And because that was the case I never considered the mechanics until reflecting on my reading as a whole. The Namesake is a good story told well.

I also appreciated that the book piqued my interest in reading more from Russian author Nikolai Gogol – though perhaps just one of his short stories, “The Overcoat,” the work highlighted in The Namesake, for now.

I have a “didn’t like” section because it seems hard to make an objective assessment of a book without mentioning some cons. Maybe I need a few more months to offer some critical reflections, but I enjoyed this book cover-to-cover. And I can say that as someone who had a mediocre response to Lahiri’s widely acclaimed Interpreter of Maladies. Reading this book makes me think I should probably re-read Maladies. So…maybe I didn’t like that reading The Namesake made me have second thoughts about my opinion of her other work?

As I creep along in my own writing I am trying to read for enjoyment and also to read critically for strategies, examples, and ideas that are useful. In this case, Lahiri’s exploration and integration of the identity theme caught my attention. There were both obvious sections and subtle developments where I sensed that Gogol was recreating himself and then finding his way back to himself – realizations of why his parents did one thing over another, recognitions of events that were annoying as a youth but as a floundering adult started to make sense. They were not always linked to his bicultural status either – much of his growth was just that, growth. A good book for theme development.

10 Responses to “Book Note: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri”

  1. ryandejonghe

    Lahiri is easily one of my favorite female authors. The quality of her writing is spare, yet full of beauty and meaning. You’re doing well to study her.

  2. sfkeefer

    Oh! I’ve read “The Overcoat”! It was part of my Russian Culture class at PSU. I remember the story vaguely (poor guy, needs new coat, ends up getting one, becomes a ghost at the end…?) but I enjoyed it. 🙂 I may actually have a copy of it somewhere. Our teacher actually printed it out from online and handed a copy out to all of us…pretty sure it wasn’t within copyright laws, haha.

    • RebeccaV

      I figured you might be the source of some Gogol for me 🙂 The storyline sounds about right for this book – I assumed there was some overlapping significance. Do you like reading Gogol or does he not make your list of favorite Russian authors?

  3. fattysamosa

    Glad WordPress recommended your blog! I actually preferred the Namesake to Interpreter as well. If you get around to reading The Lowlands, would be curious on your take, and whether you find her themes repetitive.

      • fattysamosa

        If you’re into bi-cultural narratives, the best book I’ve read in awhile has been “Americanah”. Amazing Nigerian diaspora perspective – the hair salon vignette alone is phenomenal. I’ll stop there 🙂

      • RebeccaV

        I just read that earlier this year and did enjoy it thoroughly! She’s another author I look forward to reading more from. I know she has a couple others out that I need to check out!

  4. Ryan Vincent

    Yes, I am the non-reader SIL whose only contribution is “oh, have you seen the movie based on this book?”. Now that you understand that – Have you seen the movie version of The Namesake?! My review of the movie would sound a lot your book note. So much so that I wondered if Lahiri had a say in the film production (turns out the director stayed with Lahiri and her family during filming in India, and they are extras in a few family/party scenes!).

    Do I get points for enjoying reading about you reading books?! 😉


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