Jhumpa Lahiri: Two Novels


The latest additions to my website are the two novels by Jhumpa Lahiri. The first is The Namesake, a novel which has deservedly received much acclaim and has been made into a successful film. It deals with the issue of names, identity and cultural differences. Gogol Ganguli is so named because, thanks to a book of Gogol’s short stories, his father was spotted in the wreckage after a train crash. However, he has problems with the name, not least because it was meant only as a pet name and not his permanent name. During the book he will continue to have concerns about the name. His parents had moved from India to the United States and while Gogol and his sister, Sonia, were both born in the United States and feel that they are American, they still have concerns about their roots and identity. Lahiri, who went through some of the same things herself, skilfully explores these issues.


The second book is her The Lowland, which is on the Man Booker shortlist. Though it is not a bad novel, I do not think that it is as good as The Namesake. It tells the story of two brothers, who are very close when young, but drift apart as they get older, with the younger, Udayan, getting more involved in politics, particularly relating to the Naxalbari Uprising, while the older, Subhash, goes to the United States to continue his studies in chemical oceanography. When Udayan is brutally murdered by the police, Subhash decides to marry his pregnant widow, not least because she is being harassed by the police. He takes her to the United States and treats her daughter, Bela, as his own but things do not seem to work out for any of the three of them. At this point, the book seems to lose some of its focus, as all three drift somewhat aimlessly through life. It is certainly not a bad novel but not up to the quality of its predecessor.

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