I was skeptical about reading this book, firstly because of its over-used theme of Asian immigrants trying to discover or re-invent their identities in western countries, secondly, literature balanced solely on cultural precepts does not sit well with me. It’s like cheating the reader. However to get on with it, The Namesake begins with a young man in his early twenties, who is of a Bengali (Indian) descent. He is very fond of books and one day while traveling on a train to visit his grandfather, he meets with a tragic accident. He is miraculously saved, when someone discovers him moving among the debris and rubble of the aftermath, and his hand clutching a copy of The Raincoat by Nikolai Gogol. The presence of this author’s book at that particular junction of Ashoke’s rescue leaves a deep impact on his psyche that eventually ends up shaping the rest of the novel.
After the accident he decides to leave the country and settle as far away as possible from all things that might be reminiscent of the incident which left him mentally and emotionally scarred. His parents and the many siblings, devastated by his decision, reluctantly bid him farewell, as he leaves with his newly wed bride (a union made possible through a formal arrangement by his family) and we find Ashoke, a doctoral student at MIT settling down in a tiny apartment with his wife, Ashima in America. This brings about a shift in Ashima’s experiences as well as the birth of their first son, whom they end up naming as Gogol. This young man grows up, ok, to make a long story short, he has a sister, and both of them struggle to fit in the society, schools and friends, as second generation American-Indians, rebelling against their heritage. The book follows through Gogol’s initial dislike of his name and so forth. But, I’d rather not spoil it for you, so go read the book!