By Jhumpa Lahiri
does not. It’s the 1980s. Biju, an Indian living illegally in the US, spends his days working in grimy kitchens of nondescript New York restaurants, dodging the Immigration and Naturalization Service and living in squalid accommodation. Meanwhile, in a north-eastern India shadowed by political unrest, Cambridge-educated retired judge Jemubhai Patel (whose cook is Biju’s father) lives with his teenage granddaughter Sai and his nostalgic Anglophilia results in a deep aversion to his own culture.
Spanning two continents, the dynamic narrative illustrates how each character’s dealings with the West have both scarred and altered their personalities, robbing them of their identities – a loss that intensifies with time and is inherited through the generations. Streaked with black humour and abounding in lyricism, the book deconstructs post-modern issues, from globalisation to insurgency, while coming to terms with a colonial past. The Indian-American experience has turned out to be a primary theme throughout all of Pulitzer-prizewinning Lahiri’s work and nowhere does she capture it better than in her debut novel, 2003’s The Namesake.
Capturing the immigrant experience in all its awkwardness and wonder, she poignantly portrays the sense of displacement, awe and overwhelming nostalgia that affects all those trying to form a life outside of everything they are accustomed to.
The narrative traces Indian couple Ashima and Ashoke Ganguly’s journey to the US in search of a better life as they adjust to a new culture and raise their first-generation-American children. Their son, Gogol, is torn between his parents’ heritage and the lifestyle he was born into, his unusual name (he was named after the 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol) aggravating his identity crisis. Lahiri’s fluid narrative and rich characterisation make this a memorable read.