The Namesake

by: Jhumpa Lahiri

Ashima Ganguli

The novel begins from Ashima’s perspective, and it ends with hers, too. In between, thirty-two years elapse, during which time Ashima grows from a young, diffident mother to the grand dame of a large family and network of Bengali-American friends. Ashima feels, at first, that she has separated herself completely from her family in Calcutta. Her father’s death, early in her marriage to Ashoke, devastates her. There are times when she feels she cannot raise Gogol and Sonia with Ashoke away at work. Even the transition from Cambridge to the suburbs is a difficult one, as Ashima misses being able to walk everywhere with her son, and she does not know, for years, how to drive.

But Ashima’s story is one of increasing independence. This begins in earnest after Ashoke takes the visiting professorship in Ohio, which leaves the family spread over four states for the first time: Sonia in California, Gogol in New York, Ashoke in the Midwest, and Ashima in the house at Pemberton Road. Ashoke’s death is, of course, a shock, and Ashima mourns his loss deeply for the rest of his life. But as she acknowledges, to herself and others, Ashoke was also teaching her, however unintentionally, how to live alone, by going to Cleveland for those several months before his heart attack.

Ashima thus demonstrates, by the end of the novel, the cycles of change and return that characterize all human life. By Chapter 12, she is making food as she has been throughout the novel, as she was in Chapter 1, waiting for Gogol to be born. But now she is a resident both of the US, which she considers home, and of Calcutta, where she will be spending six months a year. Ashima realizes just how familiar, how important to her, her life in America has become.