The Namesake

I’ve been really trying to branch out in my reading. I feel like there are so many amazing pieces of literature out there that I have missed. So, I posted a question on the Great American Book Club FB page asking for recommendations of more “important” books about different cultures and ethnicities. I was thinking along the lines of books by Khaled Hosseini, who I just love. Thankfully, the kind readers on the FB page gave me hundreds of suggestions. When I got my Kindle Unlimited subscription, this book was one that I was able to get. I had heard book things about it but really was unfamiliar with this one. And I can honestly say it’s been a really long time since I enjoyed a book written so simply and so beautifully.

The story begins with a couple getting married and moving to the US. His mother, Ashima, is very nervous about being away from home with her unfamiliar arranged marriage husband but makes the best of it. Once their son is born, they anxiously await a letter from their ancestor who, by tradition, names the baby. The letter never comes, so they are forced to select for him. In their Bengali culture, babies have two names- a “good” name and a nickname. The good name is for school, paperwork, etc and the nickname is how their friends and family name them. His nickname is Gogol, after the author, who his father has an emotional connection to. When they place Gogol in kindergarten, they are then forced to pick his good name and settle on Nikhil, although Gogol refuses to answer to it.

The story follows Gogol, mostly, and his struggles to find his place in his world. He, like most kids, wants to blend in and be accepted and is constantly embarrassed by his parents and their cultural differences. He is forced to visit family in unfamiliar countries for months on end. He leaves home for college, desperate to find himself and who he really is. He falls in and out of love, finds a job, and deals with life.

This book is spectacular and captivating in the most simple of ways. It’s just about a man and trying to figure out life. There’s no crazy plot mystery, so hidden twists, just a good character book, and I absolutely loved it. I’m not like Gogol because I am not torn between two cultures. My family has been in American for generations. But that didn’t matter. I still wanted to read about his life. Books like this are so important for representation. Just because I’m not Bengali-American doesn’t mean I didn’t see myself in Gogol at times. But, I imagine, to people (not necessarily Bengali, but of any one of two cultures) who do deal with, a book of this beauty must be of great comfort. Seeing yoursel fin a book, a tv show, a movie, is life-afffirming, and we need so much more of it.

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