Monday, April 30, 2007

The Namesake

The last few days, I have buried myself within The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, a book chosen as part of Finny's book club.

One of the biggest gifts of having joined a book club, however informal, is being exposed to pages I never would have found otherwise. I am carried off to a magical place, my body and mind go through a series of introspective cycles of my own memories and tears. My words are etched with her (Lahiri's) words, her phrases. It is like going on vacation.

This book has been a fantastic find; a lovely retreat.

Though these disembodied passages sound stark and cold, the feel of the book is not. Introspective, yes. Depressing, no. It's just filled with real moments and a roller coaster of moods that we all pass through. It stands as a reminder to be alert, notice your surroundings, hug the people you love.

"There is work to do at the house, his mother has warned him. His room must be emptied, every last scrap either taken back with him to New York or tossed. They will drive her to Logan and see he off as far as airport security will allow. And then the house will be occupied by strangers, and there will be no trace that they were ever there, no house to enter, no name in the telephone directory. Nothing to signify the years his family has lived here, no evidence of the effort, the achievement it had been." (page 281)

"And these events have formed Gogol, shaped him, determined who he is. They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end." (page 287)

The book brings you through routines, through emotions, through the days in the lives of individuals in a family. It amazes me how well this author brings the pages to life. Somehow her overuse of commas feels comfortable, conversational, effective.
"Though no longer pregnant, she continues, at times, to mix Rice Krispies and peanuts and onions in a bowl. For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is sort of lifelong pregnancy--a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect." (page 49, 50)

Ah, the reminders this life passes by far too fast.
"She passes over two pages filled only with the addresses of her daughter, and then her son. She has given birth to vagabonds. She is the keeper of all these names and numbers now, numbers she once knew by heart, numbers and addresses her children no longer remember...In her own life Ashima has lived in only five houses: her parents' flat in Calcutta, her in-laws' house for one month, the house they rented in Cambridge, living below the Montgomerys, the faculty apartment on campus, and, lastly, the one they own now.
One hand, five homes. A lifetime in a fist."
(page 167)

"And yet he has the feeling that he has been to a few of her birthdays, and she to his. That weekend, at his parents' house, he confirms this; at night, after his mother and Sonia have gone up to bed, he hunts for her in the photo albums that his mother has assembled over the years. Moushumi is there, lined up behind a blazing cake in his parents' dining room. She is looking away, a pointed paper hat on her head. He stares straight at the lens, the knife in his hand, poised, for the camera's benefit, over the cake, his face shining with impending adolescence. He tries to peel the image from the sticky yellow backing, to show her the next time he sees her, but it clings stubbornly, refusing to detach cleanly from the past." (page 207)

"She applies lotion to her arms and legs, reaches for a peach-colored terrycloth robe that hangs from a hook on the door. Her husband had given her the robe years ago, for a Christmas now long forgotten...She does not remember the year she'd gotten the robe, does not remember opening it, or her reaction. She knows only that it had been either Gogol or Sonia who had picked it out at one of the department stores at the mall, had wrapped it, even. That all her husband had done was to write his name and hers on the to-and-from tag. She does not fault him for this. Such omissions of devotion, of affection, she knows now, do not matter in the end...
It is the image of their two names on the tag that she thinks of, a tag she had not bothered to save. It reminds her of their life together, of the unexpected life he, in choosing to marry her, had given her here, which she had refused for so many years to accept. And though she still does not feel fully at home within these walls on Pemberton Road she knows that this is home nevertheless--the world for which she is responsible, which she has created, which is everywhere around her, needing to be packed up , given away, thrown out bit by bit. She slips her damp arms into the sleeves of the robe, ties the belt around her waist. It's always been a bit short on her, a size too small. Its warmth is a comfort all the same."
(page 280)



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