After finishing The Namesake, I wrote: “Lahiri awakened in me the frantic feeling that even the most ordinary moment is part of an utterly extraordinary frame, that every day I let slip by is one I’ll never have again. She makes me ask how and what I will remember. I feel like I’ll never forget, but I know that I will. I could forget everything.”
We begin with Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, who immigrate from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts for Ashoke to study at MIT. The story soon shifts to their son Gogol (named after the Russian author) over the decades to come. Lahiri’s style is effortless, delicate, almost photographic in its level of visual detail, and decidedly character- rather than plot-driven.
The book doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be either an Immigrant Story or a Universal Story, but, by so intimately depicting one family, manages to be both. Sometimes a first-generation American straddling two cultures, sometimes a directionless student, sometimes an architect, a boyfriend, or a self-absorbed asshole, Gogol struggles to decide: How is his family different? What kind of life does he want to lead? What is his true name? Who, and how, will he love? As a young person living in Cambridge right now, I found it poignant and reverberating.
The 214 in 2014 series chronicles every book I read in 2014. Each review contains exactly 214 words, because 2014 words is too long and 2014 characters is too dang short. And yes, this review is backlogged from 2014.
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