Not for the sake of your name

I always find it so weird in pronouncing Gogol, even until months I finish reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake. Mentioning Gogol is just a bit better, or worse, than saying Godot from the most absurd-never-ending-waiting-in-vain play Waiting for Godot.

Ashoke and Ashima know not much about love at the first time they meet. They are married through an arrangement. They live in the U.S, far away from their extended families in India. Living alone in a free country like the U. S is such a nightmare for Ashima who get used to be around her beloved families. Everything becomes so torturing when her giving birth comes. She and her husband have to take care everything all alone, with the most difficult part is having a name for their newly-born son. They are actually waiting for a name prepared by Ashima’s grandmother. Days pass by. The new parents do not receive any letters about their son’s name after he enters the new world.

As the hospital requires them to sign a birth certificate, Ashoke then comes up with the name Gogol until the chosen name does reach them one day. The name came after Nikolai Gogol, Ashoke’s most favorite author. History has it that the writer commits suicide by starving (what a strange person!). Ashoke owes his life to the author as he is able to escape from death simply because he is reading Gogol’s book when the train he is taking on has an accident.

The expected letter never comes. Ashima’s grandmother is too old to remember it.

The little Gogol grows up amazingly just like any other kids. He loves drawing. Problems regarding about his name occurs when Gogol is about to enter school. And its from his father who finds it will better to change Gogol into Nikhil, an American version from Nikolai. But Gogol reject his father’s idea, finding himself more accustomed with his own name.

It is until this part that I find the book is amusing. Its just so comical to discover the fuss behind the name. Things turn out not to be just a mere name-deep book. When Gogol is about to sit at a university he decides to change his name into Nikhil. He feels the name is not nice especially when he wants to introduce himself before courting a girl.

His father opposes such idea but can help preventing his son to execute his willingness. On one of Gogol’s birth days, Ashoke comes to his son’s room then gives him the book which saves his life. Selfish and quiet Gogol never opens the book for a quite a long time.

Now Gogol knows himself as Nikhil. He’s a bit disturbed when his families keep on calling him as Gogol and has to reprimand them sometimes. He dates some girls who care not much on his name. All they want to know more is about his origin, India.

The rest of the book tells on Gogol (or Nikhil)’s life until he reaches his 30s. Lahiri continues telling readers on how Ashoke’s family maintains their Indian culture. As more and more Indians coming to the U.S., Ashima now finds herself be livelier. She hosts some meetings, cooks Indian foods. It is all of this togetherness with her fellow immigrants which make her life be colorful, but not for Nikhil.

Growing up and mingling with most of American students keep Nikhil away from enjoying such randevouz. He likes to be alone, reading in his room. When he is dating Maxine, Nikhil experiences the so-called Western life which centers on the freedom of expression. It looks so different to watch how open and intimate Maxine’s parents are. They express their love boldly, unlike Nikhil’s parents who apply Eastern style.

Though Nikhil looks less enthusiastic with his own culture, he is such a devoted son. After his father’s death, he puts his family above all else, the one which makes Maxine be jealous then leaves him. Ashima tries to arrange his son’s meeting with Moushumi, their former neighbor’s daughter.

From all of her ex-girlfriends, it is only Moushumi who knows Nikhil’s past name. And she does not mind with it at all. Marrying Nikhil is such a perfect decision for Moushumi to heal her wounds for failing to wed her fiancee. Moushumi and Nikhil are not so-good couples. But when it comes to completeness, they can fill each other’s empty heart after the long and tiring love stories which take them to nowhere.

But their marriage goes on for such a short period. The quiet Nikhil and too-independent Moushumi share their lives apart, emotionally. Nikhil still wants to be in the U.S but Moushumi loves to pursue her career as a teacher in France. But its not about career which put them in opposite directions of lives. It is infidelity instead.

Moushumi abandons Nikhil when her husband knows her affair with the long-lost Moushumi’s first love.

The broken-hearted Nikhil goes on with his life. Now he works with a smaller group of architects. He keeps on visiting his sister, Sonia who lives a happy ending with her boyfriend.

Ashima, meanwhile, shares her life with relatives in India for six months. She spends another half year with Nikhil and Sonia in the U.S.

I deeply praise Lahiri’s capability to spin gold out of the straw of ordinary lives. I feel a mixed emotion after reading the last page of the book.

Indeed, its not just a name matter. It brings out the problem surrounding the search of Nikhil’s identity as as an Indian-born child who witnesses lots of openness while living as a real American person. The story is so real that I do not want it to end. I can not laugh a lot, cry much as well, happy enough. Its ordinarily somehow carries me to appreciate each character’s journey to be closer to what they need and want in life. The book is just what it is. Not as powerful as Lahiri’s fiction The Interpreter of Maladies but somehow it makes me hard to put it down. Till now, I still hope she will put more chapters into Nikhil’s life. I simply want it to go on and on and on…

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