Having read Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer winning short story collection, 'The Interpreter of Maladies'; which was a well crafted kaleidoscope on NRI lives, their emotions, circumstances and events I took up The Namesake with great expectations. The prose itself is very descriptive and starts off by delving into the life of an NRI couple in United States, a professor at MIT, Ashoke Ganguli and his wife Ashima. Soon the focus shifts to their son Gogol – the strange name is after the famous Russian writer Nikolai Gogol and the background behind this name forms a bedrock for the entire narrative and the disconnected life of the protagonist. How Gogol is frustrated with the name, wants to change it and finally gets to know the reason behind the name; as he grows up, comes of age and moves into the profession of an architect going through many transitions, relationships and many ups and downs of life.
The story revolves around various events in the lives of the members of this particular Bengali family – the same old stuff you would expect – life without moorings, feelings of angst, not relating to the bengali traditions etc; but for the pace of events and crucial turning points which are deftly handled - many shocking and jarring occurrences are handled matter of factly, and thus forms a perfect weave. No magic realism or dreamy stuff, the language is clear cut and the places and people seem straight out of some TV serial – sometimes certain portions get stretched too long. How the concept of independence is misused and people themselves get detached from the family and the selfish, amoral lives led by certain sections of the American society and the western world (Paris is a bookmark for this in the book) is something which comes out from the book. The book lacks any great intensity, but on the plus side this makes the story less cloying. Except for some evocative parts, it is overall neither disappointing nor a great piece of literature – quite readable would be my verdict.