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Reading Good Books

Welcome to May. The weather is getting better, and it’s my month of give and take. Mother’s Day is next week and I always try to do something special for my very special mom. Sometimes I strike gold and other times, well, let’s just say it’s the thought that counts. Fortunately, my mother is easy to please—and quite understanding.

After Mother’s Day, I start thinking about how to spend my birthday, often with the same results as mentioned before—hit or miss. But there are other things to look forward to. I have two book club meetings this month. One is for “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay, and the other is for “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. I don’t read bestsellers just for the sake of reading something hot off the press, so my reading list contains novels that are a few or even several years old. Still a good book, I figure. On that list is Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”. Having seen the movie first, I was curious about the original version, to see what remained  intact and which parts gave way to Hollywood interpretation. The paradox immigrants face between trying to give their children better opportunities and watching them grow up disconnected from their heritage intrigues me. Even the main character’s name, Gogol, represents a gift that his father wishes to pass on. A name that Gogol struggled to appreciate  or understand. Nor did he understand the price his parents paid by leaving their country in favor of education and future prospects attainable in “the land of opportunity”, the United States. Births, deaths, weddings and even mundane daily experiences that we take for granted occur long distance. Relatives’ letters  create a wistfulness and leave Ashima (Gogol’s mother) feeling that she’s constantly missing out. So she continues to wear traditional, Indian clothing and cook the way she did when still in Calcutta while carving a life for herself and her family in New England.

Gogol does his best to grow up as a typical teenager, trying desperately to blend in and at the same time make his own way. Ivy League school, career as an architect, an American girlfriend—not Bengali—who has no understanding of his heritage. This is not because she has no interest but more because Gogol treats his heritage as something to be segregated from his ideal life. When tragedy strikes his family, he starts to accept his roots.

Gogol’s story resonated with me in that there were so many situations that sounded familiar. The book brought memories—some good, some not so great—that helped me understand how Gogol must have felt. That’s the wonder of books, the experiences that draw you in and allow you to connect with the characters in a way that feels real.

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