Summary

Christmas Eve. As at the beginning of Chapter 1, Ashima is making food, but this time she is at Pemberton Road, not in Cambridge. It is the family’s final holiday celebration in Massachusetts, before Ashima moves. She plans to divide her time between India and the US, six months in each location. Ashima notes to herself her pleasure at Sonia’s upcoming marriage to Ben, whom Ashima considers to be a good man. Ashima also remarks, internally, on the dissolution of Gogol and Moushumi’s marriage. She feels that, although the circumstances of their divorce are difficult, it is better for people who are no longer in love to be apart. Ashima notes to herself that such divorce was not possible in her time, back in Calcutta.

After Ashima finishes cooking, she goes upstairs to shower and get ready for the family members to arrive. She realizes that, although she will be happy to spend more time in Calcutta, she now considers Pemberton Road, where she has lived for over thirty years, to be home. It is there that she and Ashoke made a life for themselves and raised a family. Ashima worries that the new family, the Walkers, who are buying the house will change its floor plan. But she recognizes that this is an irrational concern, since the house will no longer be her own. Ashima puts on a robe and continues her preparations before the holiday meal begins.

The narrator switches to Gogol’s perspective. For the final time in the novel, he rides the train from New York City to Boston. He knows that Ashoke will not be there to pick him up at the station. He thinks to himself how far his parents traveled from home, at such a young age, and how, as an adult, he has not strayed far from his nondescript town outside Boston. His sister lived in California, he recalls, and Moushumi in Paris. But for Gogol, the Northeast has remained home. He remembers, too, the conversation with Moushumi, about a year before, on the train up to Boston for the holidays, when he caught her in a small lie about her plans, and asked her, point-blank, if she was having an affair. She told him about Dimitri, and the couple separated swiftly thereafter, although they spent the holiday in Boston in uncomfortable silence, pretending nothing was wrong for several days.

Gogol spends time at the party, taking pictures of Ashima, Sonia, and Ben, setting up the fake tree in the living room for the last time. It is a joyous occasion, but Gogol wants to have a little time alone in his room, and goes upstairs. He finds, tucked away in his old closet, the copy of The Stories of Nikolai Gogol given to him, many years before, by Ashoke. He reads, inscribed in the front: “The man who gave you his name, from the man who gave you your name.” Gogol returns to the party, but as he is mingling among family and friends, he thinks on his life, on his new job at a smaller architectural firm, where he will have more responsibilities as a designer. And he thinks ahead to that night, when he will sit with Gogol’s stories and read them. He realizes it is his opportunity, finally, to connect more fully with his father’s life, and to learn more deeply what the name “Gogol” meant to Ashoke. The novel ends.

Analysis

Lahiri brings back a number of earlier events, causing the story to end as it began. But this is not to say that the characters in The Namesake have not changed. Instead, Lahiri shows just how much Ashima, Gogol, and Sonia have gone through. Thus, the cyclical structure of the novel, in which Ashima is making food in Chapter 12 just as in Chapter 1, is a means of illustrating the change and return that characterize all human life.

Ashima is cooking for one final celebration at Pemberton Road, a place she now considers home. Calcutta will remain, for her, the location of her ancestors. Ashima will retain a spiritual connection to India, and she will live there half a year, in order to be close to the family members from whom she has been separated for years. But Sonia (and her husband Ben) and Gogol will remain in America. Accordingly, Ashima will spend half the year with them, as an acknowledgment that much of her maturation, and the entirety of her motherhood, has taken place on American soil.

Although Ashoke is no longer living, he is still present in these pages. In looking into his childhood room one last time, Gogol finds the collection of Gogol stories that, when he was a teenager, he was too busy and angsty to read. Ashoke wanted, then, to tell his son the story of the name Gogol. But that story had to wait years, until Gogol was in college, and after he had already changed his legal name. Gogol realizes, in looking at the first page of his father’s volume, that Ashoke had wanted, long before, to tell him the story of “Gogol.” Only now is Gogol ready to understand it, to listen to it.

It is an emotional chapter. Lahiri carefully balances the good and the bad, the happy and the unhappy, the lost and the still-present. Ashima is, of course, happy to see her children. She likes Ben and is pleased that Sonia will marry him. She worries about Gogol, in the wake of his divorce, but is happy to see him, too, and to celebrate a final Christmas at Pemberton Road with him. The entire family misses Ashoke, whose presence can never be replaced. But, as above, Ashoke is still there—his picture hangs on the wall, and his writing is on the first page of the book Gogol opens.

Lahiri has managed an impressive trick, to close her story. The reader is finished reading, but Gogol is only beginning. The reader has learned the story of the Gangulis, but Gogol is ready to learn the stories of Nikolai Gogol, the same stories that inspired his father so long ago, that became caught up in his traumatic past. It is important to note, too, that Lahiri does not really “finish” her story. She does not tell us if Gogol ever gets remarried. She doesn’t say whether Sonia’s marriage to Ben is a successful one, or if they, like Moushumi and Gogol, will fight. She does not elaborate on Ashima’s plan to divide her time between the US and India.

But the novel began in a similar way. Ashima, in Chapter 1, is already expecting her child. She and Ashoke have already been introduced and have married. The novel begins “in the middle of the action,” and it ends that way, too. This method allows the reader to feel immersed in a world of Lahiri’s creation. And this world, despite ending within the form of the novel, appears to continue outside in, beyond the last page.