NEA Big Read
The Namesake

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.

  1. In the opening scene, Ashima is making a snack for herself, and near the end she prepares samosas for a party. Food plays a large role throughout the novel. How does the author use food to evoke specific emotions?
  2. This novel, less than 300 pages long, spans more than 30 years. What techniques does the author use to compress time and move the story forward?
  3. Much of the story is told in the present tense. Why would the author make this unusual choice?
  4. Maxine and her parents live in an elegant townhouse, while Gogol's family has an ordinary suburban house. How does the author use these two settings to help the reader understand these different families?
  5. Gogol's discomfort with his name is one of the novel's main themes. Also, Ashima never addresses her husband by his given name, because such a name is "intimate and therefore unspoken." What other names in the novel are important, and why?
  6. Gogol's sister Sonia is present in only a few scenes in the novel, and the story is never told from her point of view. Why do you think that Lahiri left her a less-developed character than Gogol? What purpose does she serve in the story?
  7. There are two train accidents in the novel, one involving Gogol and one his father. How are the two accidents linked, and how do they serve to drive the characters closer together, or farther apart?
  8. How does Gogol evolve as a character, from his first days of school to his life as an adult, with a profession and a wife? How does he stay the same?
  9. The author has stated in multiple interviews that she strives to write in a plain, unadorned way. What impact does her chosen style have on the reader?
  10. The Namesake is written in third person, but various characters serve as the "point of view" character, telling the story from their perspective. How many different "point of view" characters are there, and how does the author shift the narrative between them?
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