the namesake

Cover of the namesake by jhumpa lahiriby jhumpa lahiri

Maybe the immigrant experience is universal, maybe it doesn’t depend on what country you have left or are working to integrate into. This book was far better than Interpreter of Maladies because of the continuity, the development of the characters, and the obvious sincerity with which it was written.

She cried as she feeds him, and as she pats him to sleep, and as he cries between sleeping and feeding. She cries after the mailman’s visit because there are no letters from Calcutta. She cries when she calles Ashoke at his department and he does not answer. One day she cries when she goes to the kitchen to make dinner and discovers that they’ve run out of rice. She goes upstairs and knocks on Alan and Judy’s door. “Help yourself,” Judy says, but the rice in Judy’s canister is brown. To be polite, Ashima takes a cup, but downstairs she throws it away. She calls Ashoke at his department to ask him to pick up the rice on his way home. This time, when there is no answer, she gets up, washes her face and combs her hair. She changes and dresses Gogol and puts him into te navy blue, white-wheeled pram inherited from Alan and Judy. For the first time, she pushes him through the balmy streets of Cambridge, to Purity Supreme, to buy a bag of white long-grain rice. The errand takes longer than usual; for now she is repeatedly stopped on the street, and in the aisles of the supermarket, by perfect strangers, all Americans, suddenly taking notice of her, smiling, congratulating her for what she’s done. They look curiously, apreciatively, into the ram. “How old?” they ask. “Boy or girl?” “What’s his name?”

Mine might be a bichon frise, but he has had somewhat the same effect on icy Parisians. Too bad I didn’t get him sooner.

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