May 31, 2020

Book Briefs #2: Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I wrote this book review for the English Literary Society, IIT Kanpur. 

There’s no such thing as a perfect name. I think that human beings should be allowed to name themselves when they turn eighteen,’ he adds. ‘Until then, pronouns.


Slice up 30 years of the life of a boy, born to Bengali immigrants in the US- starting from his birth, through school, college, relationships, marriages, deaths and divorces. And document all of it in present tense and third person - that gives us Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Major Themes

The recurring theme of the book is the conflict between loyalty to one’s roots and fluency in the new surroundings. It sheds light on the tension between family traditions and individual freedom.

Through incidents in regular life, the author demonstrates- how the protagonist tries to run away from his Indian roots, identifies himself as an American and rebels against his family traditions.  And how his parents, who aren’t ready to accept their American identities, follow their traditions and want to instate them in their children. 

The name-change of the protagonist and the disapproval of his parents about it, is a beautiful allegory of this conflict between his Indian roots and American birth- the primary theme of the novel. 

Writing Style as an Instrument of Creative Expression

Throughout the novel, an unassuming and empathetic narrative, with a lot of emphasis on detail has been maintained.

[Use of third person] The entire novel has been written in third person, which allows the author to jump her narrative from the perspective of one character to another. This has been flawlessly exploited to present contrast in the way different characters think and act.

[Use of present tense] Unlike most stories, the novel is written in present tense, over the thirty years that it treads. This gives the reader a surreal feeling of living the life of the protagonist rather than listening to a story. It makes the reader feel the insecurities, fears, joys, confusions of the characters.

Why read it?

[beautiful writing style of the author] I suggest you to read Namesake to appreciate the beautiful writing of the author. Routine life has been presented in a raw and undramatised yet captivating manner. The novel seeks to find meaning in otherwise regular acts of life. It is formidable to note how a monotonous life story has been turned into a page-turning novel that keeps us hooked.

[well-observed characters] Namesake must also be read for its well-observed and finely crafted characters. Jhumpa, herself a Bengali immigrant and a Pulitzer Prize Winner, has created authentic characters, with an infinite emphasis on fine details. The characters with their imperfections, insecurities and fears, become very relatable to the readers.

“Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.” 

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