Harper Perennial. 291 pages
I’ve read many second generation Asian/Whathaveyou-American novels that are all pretty much about parents’ plight to the Golden country, and their ungrateful/confused, Coca-Cola speaking children who marry white-Americans.
I thought I would be in for the same ride with The Namesake. True, it has the above formula, but it is so very well written that I dare say it’s the best novel of this genre that I have ever read. And it gave me such an opening insight on Bengali culture, which I have been so in the dark of before. I almost always know what I’m going to be in for before reading these books–heavy guilt-trip, gratefulness (that my own family/culture isn’t THAT traditional), and a few tears every now and then.
But this book–it touched me way down deep. Gogol Ganguli feels that he cannot advance in his life if he kept his name. His father named him after the Russian novelist, Nikhail Gogol. But it’s more than just a reason of literary preference that he got given this name. His father believes that Gogol (the author/book) has saved his life.
Gogol (not the author/book) on the otherhand, despises his name and grows to resent not just how it is spelled and pronounced–but even his family’s ways and tradition. So when he gets the chance to, he changes his name in the hopes of changing everything “Gogol”.
But as all good stories should be (and that is not sarcastic), he painfully discovers that there is much more to changing one’s name, and soon learns to embrace the things he tried to leave behind–family, ways, and name.
Can I just say–the movie version SIMPLY WAS A DISGRACE to such a beautiful work. Not only has it massively chopped off everything that made the book its worth–it also stripped the book off its soul. To sum it up, the movie only portrayed the cover and back synopsis of the book–nothing in between.
Kal Penn (whose real name is Kalpen Modi) plays Gogol. In real life, he may be perfect to play the role, after all he also did change his name to a more western sounding one in order to get more casting calls. But Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli he certainly is not. Did not even play the part close. I like him–I think he’s hilarious. But now I’m sure he knows that he should just stick to comedy.
Very remarkable though, was Irfan Khan’s performance, who played Ashoke–Gogol’s father. HE made me cry.
Indian actress TABU played Ashima, Gogol’s mother. She’s very lovely, good performance. (Not as good as Khan). But their performances really, were much much better than Kal Penn, and whoever played the role of Sonia (sister) nor Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson).
Tabu, Zuleikha Robinson, and Jacinda Barett played Ashima, Moushumi, and Maxine respectively.
Kal Penn presenting his mother’s worst nightmare: a white girlfriend.
As beautiful as her words–author Jhumpa Lahiri
This book deserves 7 out of 5 stars. THAT good.