Study Guide

The Namesake Writing Style

By Jhumpa Lahiri

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Writing Style

Simple, Informative, Wistful

If you're looking for flowery prose or ornate sentences, well, then turn around and head for Henry James. The Namesake, on the other hand is written with stirring simplicity. Just look at the first sentence of the novel:

On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. (1.1)

The narrator tells us exactly what's up, without any flourishes of the pen. If you're wondering what in the world Ashima is making and why anyone would eat such an odd combination of food, rest easy. The next sentence tells you everything you need to know: it's Ashima's version of a common Calcutta street food. (If you find her dish at all appealing, well, here's a recipe.)

In fact, anytime the narrator makes a reference to an obscure food or unknown tradition, the narrator is careful to explain it, so that we readers don't have to dust off our Bengali dictionaries. Every custom has a story, and The Namesake is sure to tell it.

We already know that these customs play a very important role in the novel, and for Ashoke and Ashima in particular, they represent a past that is no longer available to them. As the narrator tells us,

In some senses Ashoke and Ashima live the lives of the extremely aged, those for whom everyone they once knew and loved is lost, those who survive and are consoled by memory alone. Even those family members who continue to live seem dead somehow, always invisible, impossible to touch. (3.58)

There's a longing in Gogol's life, too. A longing to understand himself, to find a balance between his two cultural identities. This leads to some pretty wistful moments, like this one, in which Gogol finally realizes the importance of his name, after all those years of hating it:

Without people in the world to call him Gogol, no matter how long he himself lives, Gogol Ganguli will, once and for all, vanish from the lips of loved ones, and so, cease to exist. Yet the thought of this eventual demise provides no sense of victory, no solace. It provides no solace at all. (12.24)

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