Culture and the struggle in the Namesake

Centering on the life of a young boy and his journey through life as a Bengali with heavy Western influences, Nikhil is challenged to create an identity that pleases not his mother, not his American friends, but himself as Gogol. Our story takes place in multiple locations across the United States of America as young Gogol makes frequent visits to Calcutta with his family. Meeting Gogol’s parents at the beginning of the book, the reader sees a glimpse of his parent’s lives before and after marriage, sense of cultural norms, the gradual adjustment to life outside of Calcutta, the personal struggles each of the parents faced, and the origin of Gogol’s name.

Gogol grows to become a man in America. Aside from fairly frequent trips to Calcutta, the homeland of his parents, he and his sister are unquestionably American. When in Calcutta, they longed for hotdogs, burgers, and any American food they could get their hands on. They disliked the lifestyle experienced in Calcutta and enjoyed American novelties over Bengali any day.

Gogol, at a very young age, very much enjoys his name. As a young child, he would proudly sign his Artful masterpieces for his mother to display for everyone to see. As time goes on, and he is exposed to more American influences and ideas, Gogol begins to dislike the name he was born with; dislike how foreign and seeming less without meaning the name “Gogol” appears to the world.

After some time apart from his family in his education, he begins to imagine living his college career as Nikhil. Only later as time passes, and after he legally changed his name, does Gogol learn of his father’s tragic close encounter with death; the true origin of his name. Before this time, he resented and wanted nothing more than to leave his name behind. Now, he is faced with a strange sense of guilt; understanding only now the significance of his name.

As Gogol strives and later becomes architect, he finds love and multiple time eras of his life. In his first few loves, Gogol struggles to accept his parents expectations and his own becoming of a man. His heart will break as the chapters go on, but each phase of his love life Gogol learn more about himself as a person and sees the progression of priorities in his life. By his second love, he has returned home to mourn the death of his beloved father and has embraced his Bengali side to honor his family. This point in the book is critical as he returns to his roots; be at Bengali or family, Gogol no longer finds comfort in living a life that is not his own.

In the later half of the book, he finds Love In An Unexpected way. His mother suggest he call a woman he has grown up with all his life and despite his, and her, Resolute denial of an arranged Bengali marriage, he finds love. He find someone who understands him better, who is both stranger to him and someone he’s known all his life. Together they make a life and we leave Gogol to privately read the book his late father had given him on his 14th birthday; finally coming to terms with his namesake.

The namesake moved me to tears many times throughout the book. I became very critical of the protagonist for his desire to not only leave his culture but his family behind in Pursuit for an American lie. It made me reflect on my current situation with my family and how I would not be able to turn my phone off willingly to them. It is always a struggle for me to not call my mom because I do fear that I will lose her at any point in time. For that reason alone, I could not relate to Gogol in his feeling of freedom and knowing that his mother could not reach him while he was with Max. I actually became very angry at him for feeling this way.

Other times that I have cried in this book include the passing of Gogol’s father. I had a feeling this would happen, especially with how the protagonist was acting. I can not fully explain my anger towards Gogol, but after a time of reflection, I know some of it is targeted towards my current situation with my own mom. As I mentioned earlier, I fear that anytime I argue with her or I go for long periods of time without talking to her, I run the risk of having my last words to her not be “I love you”. While I got this book late in the semester and had to force myself to read past this, this portion of the book had a visceral effect on me.

While I am not Bengali, I can relate to some of the mother fears in moving to a new place. When I left my own home of American Samoa, the only home I had known for my first 19 years of life, I was scared, sad, excited, worried Beyond explanation. I was going to a new place where I would meet people I have never met before I know nothing about. While this excited me, I also feared that I would not be understood in this new world I am about to enter. I wouldn’t have the support of my family and like I had all my life and I was expected all of a sudden to be able to handle myself amid the dangers of life and drowning in school work.

Learning more about their culture, I see the struggles that Gogol’s mother faces as she leaves behind all that she knew for a world that does not understand her.

On page 183, the author quotes “He was teaching me how to live alone.”

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