Ryan Chartrand

So, I know we read enough already. I’ve seen all of you struggling up the hills and dales of Cal Poly with enough books to keep the chiropractors in business. And I’m also aware that way too much of our already-scant incomes go to paying for these aforementioned tomes.

So, after dropping about $300 for this quarter’s textbooks, I decided to help you all out by giving you an overview of what’s on the bestseller’s list, in case you were looking for some more interesting reading material. You can read this column before you buy, so you won’t end up with another “must-read” under your bed. The rating system is simple: “Buy” means it’s worth all of your copious spare time and money, “Borrow” signifies you should try the library, and “Burn” self explanatory. Of course, I’m no professional, but I am an English major and I do have much (trust me) experience in the reading department.

This week’s pick is “The Namesake,” by Jhumpa Lahiri. It is published by Mariner Books and 291 is pages.

Rating: Buy! (I had to start you out with a good one, right?)

“The Namesake,” currently being made into a motion picture, is the first novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. It focuses on Gogol Ganguli, the child of Indian immigrants in the United States. It follows him from birth, through his conflicted childhood and adolescence, to his cautious reachings-out into adulthood. The novel primarily deals with Gogol’s ongoing internal battle of figuring out how to balance the strong Indian culture of his parents with the intense American influences around him.

Contrary to Indian tradition, Gogol was not named by his maternal grandmother. Instead, his father named him after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, whose book he was holding during a horrific train crash, and to which he attributes his survival. Although initially given as a nickname, it eventually becomes permanent. The key symbol in the novel, Gogol’s name can be seen as a metaphor for his life; just as his name gives no clue to either of his cultures, his entire young life is one of wondering where he really belongs in the world.

This quest for his identity brings Gogol to many life-defining crossroads throughout the course of the novel. From college to career choices, holidays to girlfriends, many of the similarly critical decisions we all make have an even deeper effect on Gogol. If he chooses to follow his dream of being an architect, he will fail to follow in his engineering father’s footsteps. If he marries the girl he loves, he will be completely separating himself from the community that became his surrogate extended family. In some ways, this could be almost any college student’s story. Lahiri displays the topics of family, love, heartbreak and growing up is in such a way that conveys them as clearly universal.

What makes this story so compelling however, is the intense connection Gogol has to two cultures that oftentimes seem to be working directly against each other. For much of the novel, Gogol seeks to put the traditions of his family behind him and make a life of his own. However, he is continually haunted by the idea of abandoning his roots, and eventually realizes that there isn’t any way to completely forget where you came from.

Lahiri does a wonderful job of developing full, credible characters that cause the reader to become one with the book. Her background as a writer of short stories is evident in her clever combination of different characters’ stories, which add up to a splendid whole. While the ending was a bit too cryptic for me (you’ll see what I mean), the beautiful conveyance of universal themes, complete character development and deeply felt story convince me that it is worth your money.

Next week: For One More Day By Mitch Albom.

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