The word namesake is defined as a person or thing named after another. Our name is much more than just a way to identify one person from the next. Our name becomes part of our identity. It ties us to our family. It determines our placement in lines or where we need to go. It can make us feel unique or part of the masses. So, what does it mean to be given a name that holds a significant importance to another person? What if what is important to them is not important to you?
The Namesake is a beautifully written novel about a family that moves from India to America. The story focuses on the son, Gogol, and his journey in life. But it’s really a book about how we come to define ourselves. Of course, as the title suggests our name is one such way. Think about all the other ways we define ourselves. I’m a mother, librarian, sister, Libra, redhead, first born, traveler, and night owl. And that’s just a quick list off the top of my head. Gogol struggles with his identity (his name being one such struggle), expectations, and at times not really knowing how he wants to define himself.
What I think Jhumpa Lahiri does best in all of her books is the ability to create these complicated characters, but the story never feels too heavy or hard to read. You don’t need to be a young man with immigrant parents to connect with this book, it’s the complexity of relationships and the desire to really understand and be true to oneself that makes this story resonant.