Some Tips for Reading The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri (published in 2003)
Setting: Boston, late 1960s through 1990s
The novel’s principal conflict: Gogol lives in two cultures—American and Indian—that have conflicting expectations about how an individual cultivates an identity. More specifically, while Gogol wants to meet his parents’ expectations, he also wants to belong to the American culture he lives in. As you read, consider how Gogol’s allegiance to one culture or the other mirrors his developmental stage.
Some other themes to consider:
The name Gogol has two distinct meanings in the novel: one, it is the last name of a famous Russian author, Nikolai Gogol; two, it is a pet name intended to be used only by Gogol’s family. Gogol’s formal name is Nikhil. The confusion that results from having two first names illustrates the identity crisis not uncommon among children born to first-generation immigrants.
Women are attracted to Gogol. As you read, keep an eye out for Kim, Ruth, Maxine, and Moushumi.
You are encouraged to mark your book because you’ll write about the novel when school begins. Mark passages relevant to character development, theme, and significant details concerning plot, names, places, etc.