The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

“On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chil pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix. Ashima has been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling from newspaper cones. Even now that there is barely space inside her, it is the one thing she craves. Tasting it from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual, there’s something missing.”

I saw the movie version of The Namesake first, several years ago, and when I saw the book in the library I decided on impulse to read it. (And also because I thought it might be on The List. It’s not.) I won’t classify this as “the movie is better”, because the truth is that the movie isn’t any better or worse than the book – although I will admit that Kal Penn makes Gogol much more appealing than he is in the book.

There are flaws to the book – most of the conversations that occur between characters (mostly Gogol and his various girlfriends) are uninteresting and make the people having them seem unbelievably dull, and then there’s the fact that nothing much really happens in this story. Two people get married, adjust to living in a new country, have kids, and then one of those kids grows up and grapples with his heritage while having a series of mostly uninteresting relationships. It’s Lahiri’s writing that makes this a four-star book. She writes in a way that I found very interesting, and her descriptions and insights into people’s heads are wonderful.

Review, in a nutshell: this is a nice book. Not amazing, not terrible. Just nice, well-written, and comforting.

Verdict: three out of five stars

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