09 June 2010

The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake
Jhumpa Lahiri

This book was a very interesting read for many reasons.  First - it's written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  After my experiences with The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I am a little leery of Pulitzer Prize winners (call me a literary whimp...I like things to move fast and words to be a) in English and b) comprehensible).  But The Namesake was a great read.
 Though was slow at times, I think Jhumpa Lahiri did an excellent job of unraveling the difficulties that face immigrants and their children.  I don't know much about the Bengali culture, but I do know what it's like to live in a foreign culture and miss your home culture.  Though my travels are always voluntary, I could sympathize with Ashima's frustrations and sorrows - especially at the beginning of the book when she is attempting to replicate the snack she missed from home (I used to ply American soliders with homemade dinner so they would take me to the Commisary on the base so that I could buy Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and real ranch dressing) and the fears associated with medical care in a foreign country.
I don't know much about arranged marriages, but I think - and feel free to disagree with me - that part of Moushumi and Gogol's relationship woes came from their cultural background.  From what I do know about arranged marriages, the family is very involved, and when you're close with your family, they're more than likely to pick an excellent spouse.  The familial roles were clearly defined by tradition, so moving into a marriage and family life was not necessarily easy, but maybe more instinctual for Ashima and Ashoke.  But Gogol and Moushumi were not as close to their parents, and their tradition was completely upended in that they lived in America and had to mold two cultures into their own.  Therefore an arranged marriage would have been difficult (possibly disasterous).  On the other hand, their parents had no experience in dating and building relationships, and could not give them any advice/help.

In any case, I would recommend this book with the caveat that it can be slow at times, but Jhumpa Lahiri does a wonderful job of shedding a little light on what it's like to be an immigrant.

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