What Lahiri clearly excels at here is depicting the nuances of the immigrant experience: the knowledge that you’re not going to be with your family members when they pass away; the sobering realization that your home country will and does become increasingly foreign to you the longer you’re away; the fact that even when you do go back, your body physically rejects your home country in its sickness, already having become acclimated to another place. Collectively, these experiences become distilled into a kind of dissonance: your home country is a place you belong, but also now a place that actively alienates you. These observations really resonated with me, especially as depicted in Ashoke and Ashima’s lives. Whether dwelled on or mentioned in passing, these moments were nevertheless measured, specific, and authentic.
As for the rest of this book, I found it to be largely underwhelming. What this book lacked, and sorely needed, is a plot. What it had was a sequential series of events, not a plot: Gogol graduates high school, Gogol goes to college, Gogol gets a girlfriend, Gogol breaks up with said girlfriend, Gogol visits home, Gogol gets a job. It made me listless. I wanted the book to be building up to something, or dealing with the fallout from something, or in any way made cohesive by some overarching struggle or conflict. Instead, what I got was a largely one-note, lukewarm series of recounted events in these characters’ lives.
Which is another thing this book suffered from: its dependence on recounting events as opposed to showing them. Lahiri uses dialogue rarely, opting to just tell you about what happened over what is usually an extended period of time. And I don’t think that narrative choice worked here: it created a distance from the narrative’s events that dulled the entire book for me.
Aside from its minute, well-observed depiction of first- and second-generation immigrants’ experiences, The Namesake was a largely forgettable book for me. It never made me genuinely emotional, and for me, that’s a heavy blow for any book to bear.