Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri

I think I need to rethink my rating systems for books. I usually go mostly by feel, pegging a star number on a book based on how I feel immediately after finishing it. I've noticed this has a few weird skews, though, like that I almost never rate the first book I've read by an author as a five, and that as some time goes by, I often have fonder memories of the book than the rating I have given it would imply.

All of this to say, while it took me a while to decide, I think The Namesake is the first 5-star book I've read in 2017. (It's also the first book entirely, but that's neither here nor there). I spent most of New Year's Eve reading it, constantly trying to put it down and do something else, and instead promising myself "just one more chapter", until I finally forced myself to stop. Even as I pressed through it, I kept thinking, what should I rate this? It feels like a four star, or so. And then I'd remind myself that I literally couldn't put it down. Clearly it needed to be better ranked than that! So five stars it is.

The Namesake is a gorgeous, tightly packed little story about a man born to immigrants in Boston, and how the name they give him - Gogol, for the Russian novelist - shapes his identity. It's a novel about not knowing where home is, about family and distances and differences, and about how relationships can develop and change as your identity does. It was fascinating to watch the cultural differences develop between Gogol and the expectations his parents have for him, and to see how his parents' community and experiences shape his life as an American. It's vivid and bright, and I wanted to slow down and savour it even as I powered through to the end. It's an evocative read, and I'm going to have to look out for more of Lahiri's work soon.

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