Friday, May 8, 2009

Carrying on the Russian Tradition, Bengali-American Style

20. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I've wanted to read this book for many years, and it was not quite what I was expecting. This is the story of Gogol Ganguli's life. Gogol is the American-born son of Bengali parents, whose father is inspired to explore the world by a terrible accident and the author Nikolai Gogol.

The book is well written, in a style that reminds me of Haruki Murakami. However, Lahiri's language is less complex and her descriptions less weird for the sake of being weird. Yet, it is the same clean, direct sentence structure that creates an insular world from which the reader is held just a little aloof, the better view from which to appreciate it.

I am very interested in Indian culture, particularly Bengali, since a good friend of mine is Bengali. Therefore, many of the foreign words, usually describing food, were familiar to me, but they may not be to most readers.

Much of the story takes place in Massachusetts, and I can relate to the detailed descriptions of Cambridge and Boston. That gave me a thrill, as I'm sure it will anyone familiar with the area.

Lahiri writes for a particular kind of reader, the same kind that enjoys the work of the Russian writer she pays homage to. This is for someone who loves development of character, the accurate portrayal of life with all its accidents and detours. There is no plot other than that, so this is not for the bestseller readers. For those who enjoyed War and Peace.

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