November Reading Update

Books, Reading

I finished three books in November which means I have reached my goal of reading 25 books this year. I’m glad I reached it early since my list includes a few works that were very short, so the list feels a little padded. I hope to add at least a couple novel length works in December to make reaching my goal feel a bit more legit.

November ReadingI already wrote about two of the books I finished, Lord Foul’s Bane and Things We Set on Fire. The third was Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. I had read Interpreter of Maladies several years ago and recall enjoying it. I did much more than just enjoy The Namesake. I was completely mesmerized by it. Lahiri’s writing style is deceptively complex. At first, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about it, but the small details she works in throughout have a cumulative effect that would never be apparent looking at any particular page, paragraph or sentence.

Lahiri writes in the third person present which simultaneously creates a sense of distance and a sense of immediacy as we watch the story unfold in the relentless now even though events date back to 1968 when we are introduced to the main character’s parents when he is still in the womb. We hear about how his parents first met, how their marriage was arranged, how the father swept his young wife away from her family in Calcutta for a new life in Boston.

The main character, Gogol, so named after his father’s favorite author who he was reading at the time of a near fatal train crash, resents this odd name and eventually changes it to Nikhil. Lahiri traces his life from his birth until his early 30s. In many ways, Gogol/Nikhil’s life is unremarkable; he goes to school, falls in love, goes to college, marries, begins a career as an architect.

However, two things make the novel special. One is that these events happen to a young man whose parents were both born and raised in Calcutta. Gogol/Nikhil struggles with creating his own identity in a country that remains mysterious to his parents. He often distances himself from them as he navigates his relationship with his heritage.

The second is Lahiri’s precise use of details, every single one of which rings true and deftly provides insight into a character or situation. The Namesake feels real; nothing is jarring or false. And because it feels so real, The Namesake makes the reader care deeply for its characters, makes the reader eager to find out what happens next. It is a quick, compelling and satisfying read.