Book Review - The Namesake

I am sure everyone has read/heard about Indian arranged marriages and how it is successful and has very low divorce rates. Now we all know there is no free lunch in life. So what gives?

Well you will understand it after you have read this book. Now this book’s cover says it is about the character Gogol but to me the most important character is his mother Ashima. What Ashima suffers here is what is experienced by 99% of women in India.

Indian women are raised in the family structure completely unprepared for this cruel world. They are taught that being obedient to the elders even if most of what is said makes no fucking sense is what make a good woman. They have to sacrifice their dreams, happiness first for their parents and then once they lose the innocence they will be married off to a complete stranger the so called husband. By now they have learned to suffer silently and feel crushed every time when no one realizes the sacrifice that they make for their children which of course will never be appreciated by the children.

To me Ashima is the tragic character in this book. Married of to a complete stranger, migrate to an unknown land where the husband leaves for his job, feel completely alone in a strange place not knowing anyone, thinking about all your loved ones, unable to visit your loved ones in case of emergency, yep this is the dirty little secret of Indian Marriages.

Everyone of us reads about the virtues of Indian marriages in newspaper/tv but the funny thing that I always notice is that it is always a guy who talks how great our marriage system is. I suppose that makes sense because any strong, independent, intellectual woman who can reason about things will see the raw deal that Indian women get in the marriage institution.

Having said that, this is a great book written in a very different style. It is not an Indian story but the turbulence of someone searching for his identity. Gogol spends so much time hating what he is during his childhood that he sets up a fictional version of himself but as he matures and experiences life, he comes to the realization that the fictional version he created is also fake and does not give the sense of completeness that he craves.

This book is brilliant in clearly expressing the anguish that a child faces when the child loves and hates the parents equally. You love them but still you get exasperated when they phone you. While all they want is to talk to you, make sure you are well, this inquiry irritates you and makes you believe they are trespassing in to your personal space. Your father calls you and you are curt to him to the point of insult and the next moment he is gone. How can anyone handle that, how will you ever come out of the guilt, how can you forgive yourself to move on with your life. I don’t know and Gogol does not know either.

I just love this book. I usually read books more than 3 to 4 times because each reading gives me a new insight into the author’s intentions. It gives me a chance to see the subtext that rides throughout the book, but I will not be reading this book again because the character of Ashima reminds of the women I know in my life who had to sacrifice everything in life in the name of family and this hypocrisy just makes me go mad.

You should read it though. Its very good.