n131213 What a gem this book is and how thoroughly enjoyable it was to read! So many times I’d walked past this book in the book stores but never bothered to pick it up, thinking (as I knew then) that it was being adapted as a movie starring Kal Penn as the lead character. “I’ll just watch the movie version,” I always told myself.

So when the book stores ran out of new titles for me to browse, this book got my attention again and I thought oh what the heck and got it. Am I glad I did. I’m now a fan of Ms Lahiri’s writings and plan to get her other books (collections of stories) – Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, the only titles available here in the shops. But first, my review of The Namesake.

The story revolves around an Indian boy named Gogol, after his father’s favourite Russian author Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol and a journey that begins with a near-death experience his father Ashoke Ganguli had in surviving a train crash, his arranged marriage to Ashima and their eventual migration to Cambridge, Massuchusetts where Ashoke lectures at MIT.

Gogol is a pet name given to the boy as opposed to a public name. This is a fascinating facet of Bengali culture that I discovered from reading the book.  But in The Namesake, through a series of unintended events, the boy ends up having his pet named registered as his official name – Gogol Ganguli and the story starts from there. From the confusion and amusement it creates in school, to his later decision to do a deed poll and change his name to Nikhil Ganguli in his search for acceptance in American society … and more importantly, his search for his own identity amidst the rich Indian tradition and upbringing he inherits from his parents.

As a student studying overseas in my late teens to mid twenties, I can relate to that desire for familiar surroundings, for people who look the same, or talk the same. I guess in Gogol’s case, his desire must be manyfold more as a ABCD (Amercian-born Confused Deshi) living with conservative Indian migrant parents with strong links to India and the story is about his rebelling against it in the beginning and later, his acceptance and embrace of it – as seen through his progress from boy to adult, and through the relationships he has with his parents, and girlfriends and then his spouse.

It is a coming of age story in some ways. And in other ways, it’s about human relationships and our search for happiness and a place under the sun. I loved this book and dreaded its end as the pages started dwindling. The characters are colourful, their personalities memorable.The story is unforgettable .. and beautiful.

It is a wondrous journey that Gogol undertook and I followed him diligently every night without fail. It is a hard book to stop reading once you start. The end is charming and I closed it so reluctantly, feeling like I need to be there to continue the journey with the Gangulis to wherever Ms Lahiri may choose to take us. It’s that good.

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. I feel as if I earned it, truly.