The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Another book picked up at The Book Shop last summer. Interestingly, once I started reading it, I realized I’d read part of this as an excerpt in The New Yorker in the summer of 2003 and remembered how much I’d liked it.
This book was awesome. I loved it.
I mean, the main metaphor throughout the book is the main character’s name. Heh. So an obsession with names can be turned into a book. 😉 Another interesting detail: it’s written in present tense, which I noticed on some level but didn’t consciously think about until I was about halfway through the book. And then I sort of went, “Hmm, this pretty much disproves the theory that you can’t carry off present tense in a novel.” So there, haters.
What else? Her descriptions are amazing. Don’t read this book when you’re hungry. What sucked me in right from the beginning, I think, was that this book begins the month/year I was born—the MC’s lifespan exactly matches my own. I guess we’re getting into an era now where I’m going to see this more often, as writers who are my age become established, but it stood out because I’m so used to reading books by older authors (who tend to write about their own generations).
What was unexpected (given the emphasis on the first/second generation immigrant aspect of the story in reviews & such) was how much I identified with the circumstances of the book. I also grew up the child of parents who moved far away from where they grew up. In their case, it was only cross-continent, but our visits were even more infrequent (and shorter) than the ones in this story, so I get that whole tenuous relationship with relatives who are really just names to you, turning friends into family, trying to figure out what/where “home” really is thing.
This book doesn’t have a traditional plot so it isn’t something that’s going to appeal to everyone. I glanced at the Amazon reviews and a lot of the more negative reviews were comments along the lines of “nothing happens,” which is true in a way, but I think misses the point. I will definitely be checking out her collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies.