In August 1968, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli welcome their brand new baby boy into the world. Happy times, right? Well, sort of. Only in order to be released from their hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they must break with Bengali custom and give their son an official name on that pesky birth certificate. Ashoke has got this one covered. He names their son Gogol, after the Russian novelist. Apparently Gogol saved Ashoke's life when he was injured in a train crash in India, back in 1961. And by Gogol we mean his books – not the man himself. Although Shmoop is always down for some time travel.
The Gangulis eventually move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they raise Gogol and, a few years later, their daughter Sonali. Growing up, Gogol gradually realizes that his name is quite unusual, and he really doesn't like that. He doesn't like that at all. Annoyed by the Bengali customs of his parents, Gogol totally embraces American popular culture. The summer before he leaves to attend college at Yale, he officially changes his name to Nikhil. Gogol is no more.
Everyone but his family calls him Nikhil. He graduates from Yale and Columbia, and gets a job at a fancy pants architecture firm in New York City. He also starts dating – insert wolf whistle here – and he chooses girlfriends who are Anglo-American, with backgrounds completely different from his own. Soon, he begins a Serious Relationship with a girl named Maxine. After a while, Gogol feels as if he is a part of her family, which sounds really nice until you realize this means he is totally ignoring his own family in order to adopt their lifestyle. To make matters worse, his father dies during this period of neglect and Gogol is wracked with guilt. He promptly dumps Maxine and starts hanging out with his family a lot more.
After his father's death, Gogol reconnects with Moushumi Mazoomdar, a friend from childhood who is now a graduate student in French at New York University. With Moushumi, Gogol finally feels comfortable with his Indian-American identity, and after a year of dating, they get hitched. If you were hoping for happily ever after, well then you're in for disappointment, because Moushumi has an affair with a guy named Dimitri Desjardins, and Gogol and Moushumi divorce. Sheesh, does this book have any happy endings?
Suddenly, it's Christmas Eve, 2000. Now single, Gogol helps his mother pack up the family home and prepare for her last Christmas Eve party. While packing, Gogol comes across the book of Nikolai Gogol's short stories that his father gave him for his fourteenth birthday. Now, many years later, Gogol finally begins to read the book. It's not exactly a happy ending, but it will have to do.