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Book of the Month: The Namesake

The Namesake - Novel

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Recommended grades 10+

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage and History Month. During all 12 months of the year, and this month especially, readers of all ages should seek out and add works by AAPI authors to their reading list. AAPI authors do not write from one sole perspective but from countless perspectives and experiences. From Wuhanese graphic novels, to picture books connecting cultural traditions and sports, to Korean-American memoirs: there are rich pieces of AAPI literature for readers of every age and reading level.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s talent as a writer was proven when she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her debut work: Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories. In The Namesake, this Indian-American author continues the thematic work she began with her short story collection. In this work, her debut novel, Lahiri explores such themes as the immigrant experience, the conflicts of assimilation and the cultural conflicts and threads between generations. Her writing draws the reader into the nuanced family dynamics and range of emotions experienced by her characters. She encourages the reader to empathize with her characters as they are caught between and navigate two worlds, countries, or cultures.

In The Namesake, Lahiri introduces us to two generations of the Ganguli family. We meet the parents, Ashoke and Ashima, as they move from Calcutta and settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We also meet and follow the development of Gogol Ganguli: their American-born son named after a Russian writer in memory of a catastrophe years before. Gogol provides one example of the first-generation experience and path in the US. Readers watch him and empathize with him as he navigates personal growth, conflicting responsibilities, broken hearts, and parental expectations.

This novel’s reading level and themes are best suited for older high school and college students. When reading The Namesake, readers will engage with nuanced characterization and trace the development of multiple themes across decades in the plot. If you enjoy this novel, be sure to check out Jhumpa Lahiri’s other work which often deals with similar themes of cultural encounters and inter-generational relationships.

Sources, The Namesake

Other AAPI Month Book Lists:

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