Book Summary: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake book cover
Book Cover

The namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is a coming-of-age novel. It handles the issues of American immigration and assimilation. Its themes are self-identity and understanding one’s culture’s and finding our roots. It brings about self-acceptance.

Chapter 1 (1968)

August, central square apartment.

Ashima Ganguli gets a contraction, she, and her husband Ashoke Ganguli (who is a doctor candidate, electrical engineering student at MIT), both are Bengali by birth. Arriving at hospital both get time to ponder about their lives in the tense atmosphere.

Ashima thinks about what her mother, father and younger brother, Rana would be doing right now back in India.

18 months spent in Cambridge had been a roller coaster for Ashima.

She was just 19 when she got married, at that time she was pursuing college degree in English. She remembers how Ashoke and his parents came to ask her hand and she agreed because being an ideal Bengali woman that was the right thing to do.

 Within weeks they move to Cambridge, America and her life does a 360 turn.

Ashoke is in waiting room going over the events. His shift to America, being married to Ashima, Ashima’s pregnancy.

His nervousness led him to pace around the room with the book he is was reading. He became a bookworm under his parental grandfather’s guidance and was an avid read of Russian authors.

He remembers the day he nearly died. At the age of 22 years when he was travelling to his grandparents’ house. At that time, he had a book called ‘A collection of Short Stories’ by Nikolai Gogol.

‘The Overcoat’ was his favourite chapter. On the train he met a man named Ghosh who had lived in England. He encouraged him to explore the world. But Ashoke politely declines him.

At night, the train journey, suddenly turns horrific as the train gets derailed. Everyone in the compartment was dead and Ashoke was badly trapped. He could not even cry out for help, to the rescuers. But he dropped the book he was holding. So, they noticed him and his life was saved.

That was second time he was born in India. The third time was when he came to America.

Being a Marxist, Ashoke, he did not thank God instead he thanked Gogol for saving his life that day.

Chapter 2

At 05:05 a baby boy is born. He has 3 visitors- Maya and Dilip Nandi (Bengali couple living near them) and Doctor Gupta (Maths prof from Dehradun).

Ashoke and Ashima wait for the boy’s name to arrive by Ashima’s grandmother. But the hospital authorities hound them for a specific answer so, in desperation Ashoke names him Gogol.

Gogol’s first house is an apartment near Harvard and MIT. They live there on rent. Ashima find the apartment, neighbourhood really depressing and she misses her family. She tells Ashoke that it would be impossible to raise the child here. Ashoke consoles her and tells her that it will all turn out fine.

Ashima finally devises a routine for herself and as Gogol grows their circle of Bengali friends grows too and even though they are finally settling in the America life, they still do not get Gogol’s real name.

At Gogol’s rice ceremony, Gogol faces his destiny for first time at 6 months and starts to cry.

Ashoke and Ashima plan on visiting India in December now that Gogol is 1. But bad news comes before as Ashima’s father dies and she is heartbroken. Her charm of going home faints.

Chapter 3 (1971)

Moved to university town outside Boston.

Ashoke has now become an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering.

Ashima feels the move to suburb even worse She believes that being a foreigner is a lifelong pregnancy.

After 2 years they finally purchase their own home.

When Gogol turn 5, he is enrolled in Public Elementary School. His parents decide to enroll him under a good name ‘Nikhil’ but Gogol panics to be someone else and after his tearful refusal. The school authorities name him Gogol.

In May, Gogol’s little sister Sonali is born. Soon the lifestyles of Ganguli’s start to switch. They are now celebrating American festivals, within their circle of Bengali friends, they celebrate Bengali Pujos.

Though their children do not understand their essence, they try to keep their children in touch with their heritage by sending Gogol to Bengali classes in 3rd grade.

Gogol hates it as he must miss his drawing class due to this session.

Gogol starts to notice discriminatory behaviour towards his parents. As a young boy his name never bothers him.

At the age of 11, School trip to cemetery where Gogol realizes that even names die with time.

Chapter 4 (1982)

Gogol’s 14th Birthday

His father gifts him a hard copy of ‘Collection of Short Stories by Nickolai Gogol.’ But he does not read it.

Then the Ganguli go on an 8 Month trip to India and Gogol was once again irritated by the fact that all their vacations were to their relatives House.

When they return Gogol starts 11th grade, his English teacher Mr. Lawson is the first person except his father to care or know about Nikolai Gogol.

Gogol feels ashamed & embarrassed when he reads out Nikolai Gogol’s life story in front of the class.

Even though his classmates are aloof to his namesake, Gogol feels that his name will become a topic of mockery.

His name even leads him not to date anyone during high school. But once at a party he finds a girl name Kim and being attracted to her, he tells his name Nikhil and then kisses her.

Gogol starts to believes that being Nikhil is better.

Chapter 5

Before going to college (Yale)

Gogol changes his name to Nikhil officially.

Getting into the new College life adjusting to his new name is easy. Just a reminder of Gogol remains from his old life.

During his first semester he comes home every weekend, dutifully.

On one such train journey he meets Ruth.

Their relationship starts to blossom. Gogol’s parents disapprove as they think that an American girl will leave their son. Gogol is very  happy around Ruth. But then she had to leave for England for a study semester. After she returns their relationship falters and eventually ends.

When Gogol is going home for Thanksgiving his train is stopped midway due to some accident. On reaching late to his home he finds Ashoke really distressed. Finally, Ashoke revels the true reason why he named him Gogol.

Gogol then he asks him whether he reminds him of that tragedy but Ashoke says Gogol is a reminder of all good things that followed.

Chapter 6 (1994)

After graduating, Nikhil moved to New York, working in firm designing hotel parts for far off places he had never been to. Even though he was getting better offers in Massachusetts he didn’t want to go to city his parents know so well, so he decided to go to New York.

One night he goes to party with his Co-workers and there he finds Maxine Ratliff.

Nikhil gets invited over to Maxine’s for dinner. Maxine lives with her parents, Lydia and Gerald and their dog.

Maxine’s family is rich and well off. He notices the differences at the dinner with their and his family.

Soon, he starts living over at their house.

 Then Max (Maxines)’s parents invite them to their summer house. On the way he stops at his parent’s house.

They finally meet Maxine. Maxine doesn’t let their awkwardness affect her but Gogol is irritated by his parents’ continuous expectance of a disaster.

Finally, they arrive at Maxine’s parents’ house and next few days are a bliss. Even his birthday is celebrated with them. He feels a sense of liberation living at Ratliff’s and forgets to call his father and mother.

Chapter 7

Around Thanksgiving, Ashoke registers in the hospital due to stomach ache.

But he gets a heart attack and dies suddenly.

Ashima is devastated and numb to hear the news. Both her children come to console her; Nikhil goes to identify his father’s body & bring back his things from the hospital.

He and his sister and mother, platform the mourning period righteously.

This incident shakes up Gogol and he declines Max offer to get away from the entire situation. Instead, he turns more responsible.

He remembers some bitter-sweet memories with his father.

Chapter 8

After a year of his father passing. He and Maxine are no longer together Sonia is now living with Ashima.

Ashima is concerned about Gogol’s relationship status. So, she sets him up Moushumi Mazoomdar.

Gogol is facing the loss of his father and Moushumi had recently got rejected by the boy she was engaged to. They found solace and comfort with each other company.

Moushumi’s childhood was filled with many restrictions too. She was refused to marry any American. Her life was really controlled. So, in rebellion, in her college time, she opened for French. Her escape from both Indian and American societies turned out to be France.

That’s how she met Graham, her ex-finance. She even moved to Paris with him. But Graham called off the marriage due to their visit to India Where he was not able to handle Moushumi’s big family. After this incident her life became gloomy.

Chapter 9

Within a year their marriage takes place. Their parents insist them to have a big Indian Wedding. Moushumi being an independent lady does not change her last name even after the wedding.

After the wedding, Gogol starts to get even more attached to her. He starts to adore her and we can clearly notice that he holds great respect for his wife.

He even attends her friends’ party. There Moushumi slips his real name by mistake. Gogol is once again reminded of his namesake.

Chapter 10 (1999)

It’s their first anniversary, Moushumi has now become professor at New York University. There she meets Dimitri Deyardins. She always had a crush on him but he had never considered her seriously & had treated her like a little kid.

But now he is back in her life. She feels happy and excited and calls him up. They start meeting secretly and begin an extra martial relationship.

Chapter 11

Gogol starts noticing that she is getting distant from him, yet he says nothing. As a direct confrontation scares him too. So, he decides to find perfect Christmas present for Moushumi. A trip to Italy.

Chapter 12

Christmas celebrations take place back on Pemberton Road (Gogol’s childhood home). Ashima’s last party in that house. She has now decided to live 6 months in India with her younger brother and remaining year she would divide among her kid’s residence. Sonia is going to marry Ben (her long-term boyfriend). Gogol and Moushumi are divorced after her relationship are exposed. Ashima is being guilty on setting up Gogol with her.

At the party Gogol goes to his old room starts clearing his things. There he finds the book gifted by his father years ago. Today he can finally relate to his namesake. He accepts his namesake. 

He accepts his namesake and finally reads the book.

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6 thoughts on “Book Summary: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri”

  1. Thank you Reet. Such a good summary of such a great story. Had a good time reading it.

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