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Guide to The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake explores the challenges faced by a newly married Bengali couple who emigrate into a foreign culture when they move from India to the United States.

The story opens with Ashima going into labour in the kitchen of her new home. When her husband, Ashok, rushes her to the hospital, Ashima must face her terror on her own while Ashok waits. When their son cannot be properly named according to their culture, the couple gives him the nickname Gogol, for an important reason.

Against the couple’s will, this is the name recorded on their son’s birth certificate. Throughout much of the novel, Gogol does understand the significance of the name that shapes his life.

Questions

  1. What stylistic features make this novel memorable?
  2. What is the effect of Lahiri’s short, filmic scenes on the pacing of the novel? Are these short scenes satisfying?
  3. In India, Ashima and her son would have been surrounded by doting friends and relatives. Does Ashima ever overcome her initial homesickness and longing for India?
  4. By focusing on two generations of immigrants, Lahiri shows that she sympathizes not only with the parents but with the children, as well. Does she show any favouritism or increased understanding to one generation over the other?
  5. Does the novel cause you to view the difficulties of immigration in a new light?
  6. Is the book appropriately named?
  7. The Russian author Nikolai Gogol is famous for his short story “The Overcoat.” In what way is a name like an overcoat?
  8. Can a name really play such a large role in shaping identity, as this novel suggests?
  9. Do you know anyone who has changed his or her name? For what reason? How much did the new name change the individual’s life?
  10. Why does Gogol’s sister Sonia have an easier time fitting into her cultural milieu?
  11. Why does Gogol feel betrayed by his parents in their naming of him?
  12. Why is the distance between Gogol and his parents so great? In what way do the differences in their cultural identities separate them?
  13. Food figures largely in the novel and many scenes revolve around family dinners.  In what way does food acts as a cultural bridge?
  14. Is Gogol a sympathetic character? Do you sympathize more with Gogol, or his parents?
  15. When Gogol meets Maxine, he becomes almost a member of the family. Is this acceptance genuine, or is there underlying evidence of racism?
  16. Why does Gogol become distant with Maxine after his father’s death?
  17. In 2007, the film of the same name was released, directed by Mira Nair. Does the film do the book justice?

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Posted by Pearl on Jul 19 2010. Filed under Reading Guides. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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