Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Report: The Namesake

I've just finished reading The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I'd seen the film ages ago, but wanted to read the novel that inspired it. In this case, the story was quite faithfully adapted from the book, but of course, the book had even more richness of detail and characterization. Why does this story move me so much?

It moves me because Gogol has been given something so rare and precious by his parents- a chance at an incredible life full of wealth, success, power. And yet. This life feels like a burden, not a gift. He resents them. He is ashamed of them. He abandons them. Denies them. Pretends they are not part of him. He cannot feel gratitude towards them. He does not see their sacrifices, only their failings and formality.

But his parents never stop loving him.

There is a beautiful scene after Ashoke dies, when Gogol is remembering a long walk he took on a beach with his father. Ashoke has forgotten the camera and tells the six year old Gogol that he will have to remember it instead.

"Will you remember this day Gogol?" his father had asked, turning back to look at him, his hands pressed like earmuffs to either side of his head. "How long will I have to remember it?" Over the rise and fall of the wind, he could hear his father's laughter. He was standing there, waiting for Gogol to catch up, putting out a hand as Gogol drew near. "Try to remember it always," he said once Gogol had reached him, leading him slowly across the breakwater where his mother and Sonia stood waiting. "Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go."

This brought tears to my eyes. It captures the essence of the parent child relationship so succinctly. Your lives are bound together so tightly but the child has to cut those ties to go and find his own way, a path the parent can no longer trod with him. There is love, but also something more complicated. Something painful. It can be so difficult to understand each other with so many expectations on either side.

Have you read any wonderful books recently? I'd love to have your suggestions about what I should read next!

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