Updates from Talkeetna #7

Location: Talkeetna

Daylight: 22 hours plus twilight

Photo Updates:

I completed my first Ekadasi (first of many I hope) last Saturday. Fasting and the corollary practice was far sweeter (and less) painful than I imagined. I was really tired and cranky all morning but by evening I was in a good mood. It helped that the family drove off for the afternoon + evening and I had plenty of quiet time. Rafting the other night and being out in the woods has been very inspirational. I’ve even connected with my little cousin. We’ve talked about offerings, about God and Jesus, above feeling love for God, and expressing that love towards others. I think I’ve been able to speak in a way that many Christians would agree with as well. Though I choose my words carefully to mesh with her frame of reference, I don’t have any inhibitions about speaking with such a topic, even though (or especially because!) her parents never talk about it.

I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake last week. Unfortunately, Lahiri’s acclaimed novel falls short of expectation. The Namesake follows two generations of the Ganguli family through adolescence, marriage, immigration, birth, death, and divorce. Lahiri’s delicate prose presents wonderfully lucid characters struggling with family, identity, loneliness, and cultural conflict. 

Ashoke Ganguli, the driven, determined, yet timid father of the family, is the most interesting character. The story of his youth, his motivation in literature and a train accident, and his determination to succeed in America are captivating and sympathetic.

Ashoke’s story is the least detailed and the most successful. Lahiri’s plotlines do not justify the detail she offers. Her novel is plagued by too-delicate, precious prose and grave dramatic omissions.

The title character Gogol Ganguli, who later changes his name to Nikhil, spends hundreds of pages doubting his name, his cultural loyalty, his relationships, and his parents’ approval. Halfway through the novel his actions and reactions become predictable and one wonders why Gogol doesn’t see his infatuations and breakups coming. Surprisingly, for a nominal intellectual, he never doubts his academic ability, professional credentials, or even religion, philosophy, and politics. This omission is highlighted most when Lahiri refers in passing to his twice-failure of the architect’s licensing examination. And though Lahiri spends many pages detailing his romantic trepidations, she never addresses the matter of his choosing architecture over his parents’ preference of engineer, lawyer, or doctor, the classic Desi triad.

Though The Namesake presents the tribulations of Indian-American emigres of Lahiri’s cohort with great detail and insight, it ultimately leaves the taste of another postmodern romance novel. The honesty and innocence of the elder Gangulis do not make up for Lahiri’s concern with the exploits of their children, and she even tries to cast Gogol as a well-intentioned innocent as well. But despite his intelligence, despite his mixed heritage – and though Lahiri continually refers to him by his childhood name, Gogol, even after he has cast it by the wayside – Nikhil is an American man, fully caught in the net of American liberality and materialism. The Namesake is as well.


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