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Gogol and Moushumi wake up to her mother’s phone call: it is the couple’s first wedding anniversary. Lahiri’s narrator, taking up Moushumi’s thoughts, tracks the events of the intervening year, during which Moushumi has passed her qualifying exams for her doctorate, and settled even more into married life. She has also won a fellowship to study for a year in Paris. She has not told Gogol of this, since now, she tells herself she must think as a married woman, and, therefore, must put her relationship first. The couple prepares to go out for their anniversary dinner, to a restaurant in Midtown that Donald and Astrid have recommended. Moushumi wears a dress from early in their relationship, hoping Gogol will remember it, but he does not. Moushumi has resigned herself to the fact that Gogol recalls “details” in his life only as they relate to architecture—not to their marriage. They walk to the restaurant.
The dinner, however, goes poorly. The restaurant is cold and impersonal, the food disappointing and in small portions. They leave vaguely sad. Soon after, Moushumi begins teaching Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, an 8 a.m. section of French, at NYU. One morning, Moushumi learns that a departmental administrator has died suddenly, while sorting the mail. The news upset her. Moushumi, taking some of the mail, sees a return address for a man named Dimitri Desjardins, applying to teach as adjunct faculty at NYU. The name stops her in her tracks. She had met him years ago, in Princeton, when she was a high-school student, and he was in town, living with his parents and preparing to apply for PhDs.
Moushumi had been in Princeton to take a bus to Washington, DC, as part of an anti-apartheid march. She and Dimitri had sat next to each other on the ride down, flirting and touching each other lightly, but their relationship never progressed any further. Moushumi saw him once more in town, and though they felt a romantic connection, Dimitri was several years older and planning to head to Europe to study literature. In the present, in the French department at NYU, Moushumi copies down Dimitri’s phone number and address, wondering whether she will contact him. Later that night, she finds a copy of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black given to her by Dimitri, years ago, and inscribed to “Mouse,” his nickname for her.
Moushumi calls Dimitri one day, furtively, and they begin having an affair. Dimitri lives uptown, in a bachelor’s apartment. He is unkempt, disorganized, and living off a small inheritance from his parents. Although Moushumi knows she is ruining her marriage with a man who is, by any standard, far worse than her loyal husband, she finds she cannot stop herself. She enjoys having sex with Dimitri, talking about literature with him. Gogol continues not to suspect that Moushumi is having an affair. Gogol and Moushumi drift apart, however, and she spends time after class each week with Dimitri in his apartment. She enjoys examining the books on his shelf, feeling that they have an intellectual connection.
Gogol’s and Moushumi’s marriage becomes increasingly strained. Several events in this chapter indicate the extent to which they have grown apart. And, of course, this strain culminates in Moushumi’s affair, about which Gogol is, for a long time, ignorant. The narrator reveals that Moushumi has applied for a fellowship in Paris, just to “see” if she could win it, but clearly her desire to return to France indicates at least some hesitation about the nature of her life in New York. Similarly, the couple’s anniversary dinner, intended to be a joyous occasion, is fraught and stilted. They don’t enjoy the restaurant, and Gogol seems particularly upset that the place was Donald and Astrid’s idea. Gogol believes, in fact, that Moushumi will do whatever her friends tell her. He fears she is more loyal to them than she is to him.
Read more about Gogol’s emotional engagement with Moushumi.
To Moushumi’s credit, however, Gogol, is far from perfect. The episode of her dress, which Gogol does not remember from much earlier in their courtship, shows that he, too, is to blame for the growing gulf between them. Gogol focuses intently on his work, and the narrator seems to indicate that, on occasion, Gogol can become inward, quiet. In this way he is not unlike his father. But the bond between Ashima and Ashoke is a far deeper one, founded in a mutual trust that each will protect and care for the other. Moushumi’s marriage to Gogol, however, is different, and by necessity. For the two young people live in a much different world from that of her parents. The book’s narrator does not blame Gogol and Moushumi for their “modern” way of life, nor does the narrator laud Ashima and Ashoke for staying together, despite all obstacles. But the marriages are placed in silent contrast with one another.
Dimitri is far from an ideal partner. Indeed, Moushumi has no illusions about his suitability, compared to Gogol’s. But Dimitri comes from a deep, almost-forgotten part of her past. He is an intellectual, and though Gogol works in a creative profession, Moushumi seems to crave this kind of “academic” connection in a partner. And there is, of course, the illicit charm of their secretive union. Moushumi begins an affair because she is unhappy with her life and marriage. She also desires an escape, a world that is unknown to Gogol, unknown to her parents. Dimitri represents this world, even as, in real life, he is mostly a slob, a lazy ex grad-student with little by way of professional accomplishments.
Read more about how Moushumi longs for a life that does not, ultimately, include Gogol.
That Dimitri gave “Mouse” a book, long ago, is important. For their connection is founded on a relationship to literature, especially French literature. For Moushumi, this literature will always have the allure of the foreign, the unreachable. In this way, Moushumi confirms Gogol’s deep suspicion, from their time in Paris, that his wife is not entirely comfortable living in New York with a Bengali-American man. Gogol worries that Moushumi has somehow “given in” to the pressures of cultural conformity. And though their marriage is more complicated than that, “foreignness” for Moushumi is, inherently, a desirable thing. It is not that way for Gogol, who craves stability and comfort in his life.
Read more about reading as a motif.