the namesake

The one good part about going to the movies tonight, however -- besides hanging out with friends celebrating their birthdays, of course -- was seeing the trailer for the film based on Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake.

I read Lahiri's book last year and thought it was beautiful; not for its main character, the narcissistic Gogol, but for Gogol's mother. Everything about poor Ashima Ganguli, from the way she turns American food to Indian food, to the way she watches her self-centred boy grow up, is an experiment in love and patience and establishing a cultural identity in a melting pot. Ashima is doubtless the heroine of her son's story.

Before you check out the trailer, I offer this excerpt, from page 97:

Plenty of people changed their names: actors, writers, revolutionaries, transvestites. In history class, Gogol has learned that European immigrants had their names changed at Ellis Island, that slaves renamed themselves once they were emancipated. Though Gogol doesn't know it, even Nikolai Gogol renamed himself, simplifying his surname at the age of twenty-two from Gogol-Yanovsky to Gogol upon publication in the Literary Gazette....
That night at the dinner table, he brought it up with his parents. It was one thing for Gogol to be the name penned in calligraphy on his high school diploma, and printed below his picture in the yearbook, he'd begun. It was one thing, even for it to be typed on his applications to five Ivy League colleges, as well as to Stanford and Berkeley. But engraved, four years from now, on a bachelor of arts degree? Written at the top of a resume? Centered on a business card? It would be the name his parents picked out for him, he assured them, the good name they'd chosen for him when he was five.
'What's done is done,' his father had said. 'It would be a hassle. Gogol has, in effect, become your good name.'
'It's too complicated now,' his mother said, agreeing. 'You're too old.'
'I'm not,' he persisted. 'I don't get it. Why did you have to give me a pet name in the first place? What's the point?'
'It's our way, Gogol,' his mother maintained. 'It's what Bengalis do.'
'But it's not even a Bengali name..... I don't get it. How could you guys name me after someone so strange? No one takes me seriously.'
'Who? Who does not take you seriously?' his father wanted to know, lifting his fingers from his plate, looking up at him.
'People,' he said, lying to his parents.

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