Welcome to To Be Honest, HBT where I use my favorite quotes from a recent book I’ve read, categorize them, and explain my thoughts on the book as a whole. I tend to find meaning in everything, but I don’t really force it. Most “reviews” are spoiler free and provide a warning prior to a spoiler-filled section.
This week I’m discussing The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.
She wishes the curtains were open, so that she could talk to the American women. Perhaps one of them has given birth before, can tell her what to expect. But she had gathered that Americans, in spite of their public declarations of affection, in spite of their miniskirts and bikinis, in spite of their hand-holding on the street and lying on top of each other on the Cambridge Common, prefer their privacy.
–> It is so logical that Ashima should feel this way as an outsider. It’s condescending, but still funny.
She plays with the dirt they’ve dug up from the yard and threatens to put the dollar bill into her mouth. “This one,” one of the guests remarks, “this one is the true American.”
–> There is a feeding ceremony for Sonia too. Sonia really is a true American compared to Gogol. Gogol tries very hard and Sonia doesn’t have to.
Once again they are free to quarrel, to tease each other, to shout and holler and say shut up.
–> This specific part about saying shut up is so true. #clapter
“My grandfather always says that’s what books are for,” Ashoke said, using the opportunity to open the volume in his hands. “To travel without moving an inch.”
–> Oh how true this is. Moving through space and time, but also through so many emotions.
“Lucky boy,” Ashoke remarks, turning the beautifully sewn pages. “Only hours old and already the owner of books.” What a difference, he thinks, from the childhood he has known.
For the sake of Gogol and Sonia they celebrate, with progressively increasing fanfare, the birth of Christ, an event the children look forward to far more than the worship of Durga and Saraswati.
–> Ashima and Ashoke feel obligated to give their children these American things, including American religions. I wonder whether assimilation is a negative thing only to me or if they took this the same way.
For by now he is aware, in stores, of cashiers smirking at his parents’ accents, and of salesmen who prefer to direct their conversation to Gogol, as though his parents were either incompetent or deaf.
–> I have certainly experienced this with my own parents. It can be very offensive.
At home, his mother is horrified. What type of field trip was this? It was enough that they applied lipstick to their corpses and buried them in silk-lined boxes.
–> Gogol goes with an art class field trip to a graveyard where they rub their crayons or chalk onto a paper over the already fading indentations on the tombstones. Gogol doesn’t see any Gangulis, though he finds other Indian names. This makes him realize how different he is, again. I’m starting to wonder why this story needs to focus on Gogol’s insecurity. I’ve come up with this: since his parents were so insecure in this new country when he was born, it spread to him. Once Sonia arrived they understood things a bit better and she didn’t feel as much insecurity.
The substitution sounds wrong to Gogol, correct but off-key, the way it sounds when his parents speak English to him instead of Bengali.
–> Gogol changes his name to Nikhil officially. His parents adapt in public. Its funny because I feel the same exact way. When my parents suddenly start speaking to me in English I think it’s really weird.
They’ve even gone so far as to point out examples of Bengali men they know who’ve married Americans. Marriages that have ended in divorce.
–> This all makes sense to me. A friend recently asked why I specifically want to marry someone Jewish. It’s really simple, besides the rules, imagine marrying someone who shares similar values or similar backgrounds; It just sounds a lot more logical than not. Their stories are not necessarily scare-tactics, they come from concern.
It is a meal he knows it has taken his mother over a day to prepare, and yet the amount of effort embarrasses him.
–> I’m with Ashima. I take entertaining way too seriously.
She remembers selecting the smallest and cheapest style, saying “I would like to buy this one, please” as she placed the item on the counter, her heart pounding for fear that she would not be understood.
They talk about how they are both routinely assumed to be Greek, Egyptian, Mexican- even in this misrendering they are joined.
–> Been there!
Their inquiries had filled her with a cold dread. She hated the way they would talk of the details of her wedding, the menu and the different ceremonies, as if it were a fixed certainty in her life.
–> Marriage is considered a fixed certainty in so many communities. It took me a while to realize that it isn’t and that’s not a depressing statement. It’s a real one. Sometimes it may not be in the cards for you.
224 minor spoilers
He is aware that together he and Moushumi are fulfilling a collective, deep-seated desire- because they’re both Bengali, everyone can let his hair down a bit.
–> So, it turns out he marries a Bengali woman. As anyone who has read the book or watched the movie (or has been paying attention) this does not work out. Her being Bengali did not necessarily mean they shared the same values. Poor Gogol.
Though he hasn’t admitted this to her, he’d hoped, the day they’d filled out the application for their marriage license, that she might consider otherwise, as a tribute to his father if nothing else.
–> Moushumi does not want to change her name once she’s married because she started publishing. I understand both of them. If someday I get married, I’d like to keep my last name because it is an important part of my identity and if my siblings don’t have children, I’d like to keep my father’s name alive.
Like Ashoke, the bachelors fly back to Calcutta one by one, returning with wives. Every weekend, it seems, there is a new home to go to, a new couple or young family to meet. They all come from Calcutta, and for this reason alone they are friends. Most of them live within walking distance of one another in Cambridge. The husbands are teachers, researchers, doctors, engineers. the wives, homesick and bewildered, turn to Ashima for recipes and advice, and she tells them about the carp that’s sold in Chinatown, that it’s possible to make halwa from Cream of Wheat.
–> Reversal. Once she was alone without any help and now Ashima is the one others look to for help.
Somehow, this small miracle causes Ashima to feel connected to Cambridge in a way she has not previously thought possible, affiliated with its exceptions as well as its rules.
–> Ashima leaves all her souvenirs for her family and her father on the train, but the MBTA has them in the lost and found. She is so surprised and genuinely appreciative that this cold unknown place helped her in a way. The anxiety when she realizes she left her bags is very strong and so is the relief. Lahiri later uses the train as the way Ashima sends the intended gifts for her father into the unknown. It’s a beautiful moment and a great way to connect the feelings of belonging and mourning.
Instead he tells her what Rana told him a few minutes ago, what Rana couldn’t bear to tell his sister, over the telephone, himself: that her father died yesterday evening, of a heart attack, playing patience on his bed.
–> This moment is so painful. When Rana just chats with his sister and can’t tell her that their father died. Jhumpa Lahiri is constantly showing us how alone Ashima is becoming. First she moves to another country, then she is left alone with a baby for most of the day, then she starts losing family members… The movie talks about Joseph Campbell and I’m wondering if anyone else read the Hero’s Journey bits from Ashima’s storyline.
When Ashima notices that Ashoke didn’t fight her too hard when she decided to stay at home while he was in Clevland, she realizes he meant for her to get used to being alone. One step in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is that the mentor dies. While Ashoke is not necessarily Ashima’s actual mentor, he is obviously a very strong figure in her adult life, if not the strongest.
He is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn’t know. Who doesn’t know him.
–> Irony. Gogol is afraid to pretend at a young age, but he pretends for the rest of his life.
Instead it is his knowledge that apart from their affluence, Gerald and Lydia are secure in a way his parents will never be.
–> hit the nail on the head Gogol. Gerald and Lydia are so comfortable in their own skins, they know themselves and are free. Ashoke and Ashima are more reserved, a little uncomfortable, and unsure at times.
A lifetime in a fist.
–> Loved this description. Ashima counts the homes she’s lived in.
Having been depriveed of the company of her own parents upon moving to America, her children’s independence, their need to keep their distance from her, is something she will never understand. Still, she had not argued with them. This too, she is beginning to learn. She had complained to her friends at the library, and they had told her it was inevitable, that eventually parents had to stop assuming that their children would return faithfully for the holidays.