From time to time during the next month I will be posting passages from The Namesake that illustrate what a wonderful book this is. In the fifth chapter, Gogol Ganguli, the thoroughly American son of the still very Bengali Ashima and Ashoke, is about to begin college. And for this new phase of his life he wants a new name. He's always hated being called "Gogol," and his father Ashoke has never fully explained the importance of the name. In addition to being his favorite writer, Ashoke credits Gogol with saving his life. Back in India long before Gogol's birth, Ashoke had been traveling to see his grandparents when his train derailed. The rescue team might never have found Ashoke, his pelvis and right leg broken, trapped inside the overturned car, unable to speak, had he not raised his hand just enough that they could see it holding a page of Gogol's story "The Overcoat," which he had been reading at the moment of the crash. Like a white flag of distress, the page caught the eye of the rescuers and they pulled him out.
Young Gogol knows nothing of this. He just knows he wants a name that's comparatively normal. Trying to explain to his parents why he wants a new name, he says, "Nobody takes me seriously." "Who does not take you seriously?" his father asks.
"People," he said, lying to his parents. For his father had a point; the only person who didn't take Gogol seriously, the only person who tormented him, the only person chronically aware of and afflicted by the embarrassment of his name, the only person who constantly questioned it and wished it were otherwise, was Gogol.
I love this passage because it illustrates not just the angst of being a teenager, but the irony of human self-consciousness. So many of us walk around troubled by something about ourselves, that we agonize over and wish we could change, not realizing that most people probably don't notice it. Gogol hates his name and is conflicted about being Bengali. But if he were just another WASP, he would simply find something else about himself to hate, to be conflicted about, because that's who teenagers are. That's who people are. Gogol's position on the border of two cultures simply magnifies the angst and self-consciousness we all feel at times.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Join us at the East Branch this Saturday at 2 p.m. for the start of Somerville Reads! From 2 to 5 you can listen to Bollywood music and enjoy a performance by the Somerville High School Nepali Dance Troupe. You'll also be able to get a henna tattoo custom-designed by local artist Manisha Trevedi (example at left) and contribute to an "immigration quilt" telling the stories of the people of Somerville. Refreshments will be served.
It's free and everyone's welcome!
It's free and everyone's welcome!
Thursday, April 21, 2011
...you haven't started reading The Namesake yet, what are you waiting for? We still have plenty of copies at the library on a display rack in front of the reference desk. If you're hesitant, Michiko Kakutani's New York Times review should whet your appetite.
Monday, April 11, 2011
This month Somerville will begin its second annual one city/one book campaign, a community read project in which people throughout the city will read and discuss the same book. This year's book is Jumpha Lahiri's The Namesake, a novel that follows the lives of two generations of a Bengali-American family as they struggle with the conflicting demands of two cultures. Our kickoff event is Saturday, April 30, 2 p.m. at the East Branch Library, 115 Broadway. We'll be offering light refreshments and a performance by the Somerville High School Nepali Dance Troupe. This is the first of numerous events we'll be hosting throughout the city during May, including book discussion groups and a movie series on the theme of immigration. Stay tuned!