"The reader should realize himself that it could not have happened otherwise and that to give him any other name was quite out of the question." – Nikolai Gogol, "The Overcoat
My copying of the epigraph is to revere the literary precision that Jhumpa Lahiri has maintained throughout “The Namesake”. “The Namesake” is a story of dreams, despairs, diversions and disillusionment. It is the story of a generation which tries to cling to their traditions in their newly found abode and of a generation which is trying to free themselves from the same traditions being imposed upon them. It is the story of the angst of the Bengali immigrants in a foreign land and the conundrum of ABCD (American Born Conflicted Deshi’s) on being exposed to two contrasting cultures of East and West.
“But she has gathered that Americans, in spite of their public declarations of affection, in spite of their miniskirts and bikinis, in spite of their hand-holding on the street and lying on top of each other on the Cambridge Common, prefer their privacy.”
The former half of the story revolves around the stark cultural variation that a middle class Indian subjected to on his/her advent to America. She compares Orient’s collectivism to western Individualism. Bengali bindings to Boston’s liberty. Indian Sanctity for relations to American Intimacy.
“She has adopted his surname, but refuses for propriety’s sake to utter his first.”
Lahiri very well captures the anxiety of the Bengali immigrants when they are compelled to live in solitude in a land where they know none and are known to none. The immaculate portrayal of their helplessness when they are informed about the deaths of their loved ones, or when they survive through the bigotry of the society or when they witness their offspring forsaking the beliefs which they, so firmly, withheld even on a foreign soil, draws a sincere compliment for the keenness of her observations and eloquence of her writing.
“He knows that this sort of life which is such a proud accomplishment for his own parents, is of no relevance, no interest to her, that she loves him in spite of it."The latter half explicates identity crisis that the first generation American borns experience as a result of being subjected to two different lifestyles: the one they are part of and the other they have inherited. They live a dual existence: for some they are Indians, for others American. Lahiri has very subtly attempted to give words to their intricate emotions: American common sense held together by through fragile laces of Indianess. In some strange way, they are connected through their parents to a strange culture of which they have never been a part of and yet they can trace its roots in themselves.
“It is in the midst of the laughter of these drunken adults, and the cries of their children running barefoot, chasing fireflies on the lawn, that he remembers that his father left for Cleveland a week ago, that by now he is there, in a new apartment, alone. That his mother is alone on Pemberton Road. He knows he should call to make sure his father has arrived safely, and to find out how his mother is faring on her own. But such concerns make no sense here among Maxine and her family.”
As an author, Jhumpa is pedantic for details which, for most times, draw you into the story but at other instants expel you away as you find it to be slow-paced and unhappening. But for the greater part of the story you find yourself appreciating her eye for the intricate details in monotony of daily routine. Her descriptions are often passive, impersonal and at times blatant, and yet there is something sublime about it that you can't refrain yourself from appreciating. To conclude with, “The Namesake” is a perfect concoction of humour, irony and unsentimental portrayal of sentiments that will entice you and enthrall and will eventually leave you dissatisfied at a climax where you just don’t wish to emerge out of the story.
“Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went to a place where there was no where else to go. “