This is certainly a novel that explores the concepts of cultural identity, of rootlessness, of tradition and familial expectation – as well as the way that names subtly (and not so subtly) alter our perceptions of ourselves – but it's very much to its credit that it never succumbs to the clichés those themes so often entail. Instead, Lahiri turns it into something both larger and simpler: the story of a man and his family, of his life and hopes, loves and sorrows … All Lahiri's observations jolt your heart with their freshness and truth. Her skill at deploying small physical details as a path into character is as exceptional as it is enjoyable.
Jhumpa Lahiri's quietly dazzling new novel, The Namesake, is that rare thing: an intimate, closely observed family portrait that effortlessly and discreetly unfolds to disclose a capacious social vision … In chronicling more than three decades in the Gangulis' lives, Ms. Lahiri has not only given us a wonderfully intimate and knowing family portrait, she has also taken the haunting chamber music of her first collection of stories and reorchestrated its themes of exile and identity to create a symphonic work, a debut novel that is as assured and eloquent as the work of a longtime master of the craft.
Written in an elegant hush – even upon rereading, there isn't a single burned raisin in the mix – Lahiri's stories traced out the lives of various Bengali-Americans suffering through various stages of lovelorn distress … The reader has begun to suspect that, graceful and spare as Lahiri's prose is, the simply put does not always equal the deeply felt. How much steely equipoise, after all, can one novel stand? Lahiri is a supremely gifted writer, but at moments in The Namesake it feels as though we've descended from the great Russians to Nick Adams to the PowerPoint voice-over … Its incorrigible mildness and its ungilded lilies aside, Lahiri's novel is unfailingly lovely in its treatment of Gogol's relationship with his father. This is the classic American parent-child bond – snakebit, oblique, half-mumbled – and in Lahiri's rendering, it touches on quiet perfection.