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First edition cover
|Cover artist||Philippe Lardy|
|Publication date||September, 2003|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback) and audio-CD|
|Pages||291 (hardback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-395-92721-8 (hardback edition)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 21|
|LC Classification||PS3562.A316 N36 2003|
The Namesake (2003) is the first novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. It was originally a novella published in The New Yorker and was later expanded to a full length novel. It explores many of the same emotional and cultural themes as her Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. Moving between events in Calcutta, Boston, and New York City, the novel examines the nuances involved with being caught between two conflicting cultures with highly distinct religious, social, and ideological differences.
Plot summary 
The novel describes the struggles and hardships of a Bengali couple who immigrate to the United States to form a life outside of everything they are accustomed to.
The story begins as Ashoke and Ashima leave Calcutta, India and settle in Central Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Through a series of errors, their son's nickname, Gogol, becomes his official birth name, an event that will shape many aspects of his life in years to come.
Ashima Ganguli is a young bride about to deliver her first child in a hospital in Massachusetts. It is 1968, and her husband, Ashoke, is an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). New to America, Ashima struggles through language and cultural barriers as well as her own fears as she delivers her first child alone. Had the delivery taken place in Calcutta, she would have had her baby at home, surrounded by family. The delivery is successful, and the new parents are prepared to take their son home when they learn they cannot leave the hospital before giving their son a legal name.
The traditional naming process in their families is to have an elder give the new baby a name, and the new parents await a letter sent by Ashima's grandmother. The letter never arrives, and soon after, the grandmother dies. Bengali culture calls for a child to have two names, a pet name to be called by family, and a good name to be used in public. Ashoke suggests the name of Gogol, in honor of the famous Russian author Nikolai Gogol, to be the baby's pet name, and they use this name on the birth certificate. As a young man, Ashoke survived a train derailment with many fatalities. He had been reading a short story collection by Gogol just before the accident, and lying in the rubble of the accident he clutched a single page of the story "The Overcoat" in his hand. With many broken bones and no strength to move or call out, dropping the crumpled page is the only thing Ashoke can do to get the attention of medics looking for survivors. Though the pet name has deep significance for the baby's parents, it is never intended to be used by anyone other than family.
Entering kindergarten, the Gangulis inform their son that he will be known as Nikhil at school. The five-year-old objects, and school administrators intervene on his behalf, sending him home with a note pinned to his shirt stating that he would be called Gogol at school, as was his preference. By the time he turns 14, he starts to hate the name. His father tries once to explain the significance of it, but he senses that Gogol is not old enough to understand. As Gogol progresses through high school, he resents his name more and more for its oddness and the strange genius he was named for. When he informs his parents that he wishes to change his name, his father objects to the idea but reluctantly agrees. Shortly before leaving for college, Gogol legally changes his name to Nikhil Gogol Ganguli.
This change in name and Gogol's going to Yale, rather than following his father’s footsteps to MIT, sets up the barriers between Gogol and his family. The distance, both geographically and emotionally, between Gogol and his parents continues to increase. He wants to be American, not Bengali. He goes home less frequently, dates American girls, and becomes angry when anyone calls him Gogol. During his college years, he smokes cigarettes and marijuana, goes to many parties, and loses his virginity to a girl he cannot remember.
When he goes home for the summer, Gogol's train is suddenly stopped and temporarily loses electricity. A man had jumped in front of the train and committed suicide, and the wait for the authorities causes a long delay. Ashoke, who is waiting at the train station for Gogol, becomes very concerned when he calls the train company and hears of this incident. When they pull into the Ganguli's driveway, Ashoke turns off the car and finally explains the true significance of Gogol's name. Gogol is deeply troubled by this news, asking his father why he didn't tell him this earlier. He starts to regret changing his name and changing his identity.
He lives in a very small apartment in New York City, where he has landed a job in an established architectural office after graduating from Columbia. He is rather stiff personality-wise, perpetually angry or else always on the lookout for someone to make a stereotypical comment about his background.
At a party, Gogol meets a very attractive and rather socially aggressive girl named Maxine. Gogol becomes completely wrapped up in her and her family. Maxine's parents are financially well off and live in a four-story house in New York City. Maxine has one floor to herself and invites Gogol to move in. Gogol becomes a member of the family, helping with the cooking and shopping. Maxine's parents appear to have accepted him as a son. When Maxine's parents leave the city for the summer, they invite Maxine and Gogol to join them for a couple of weeks. They are staying in the mountains in New Hampshire, where Maxine's grandparents live.
Gogol introduces Maxine to his parents. Ashima dismisses Maxine as something that Gogol will eventually get over. Shortly after this meeting, Gogol's father dies of a heart attack while teaching a semester in Ohio. Gogol travels to Ohio to gather his father's belongings and his father's ashes. Something inside of Gogol changes. He slowly withdraws from Maxine as he tries to sort out his emotions. Gogol breaks off the relationship and begins to spend more time with his mother and sister, Sonia.
Ashima, after some time has gone by, suggests that Gogol contact the daughter of one of her friends. Gogol knows of the woman from his own childhood. Her name is Moushumi, and she has had the unfortunate experience of having planned a wedding only to have her intended groom change his mind at the last minute. Gogol is reluctant to meet with Moushumi because she is Bengali. But he meets her anyway, to please his mother.
Moushumi and Gogol are attracted to one another and eventually are married. However, by the end of their first year of marriage, Moushumi becomes restless. She feels tied down by marriage and begins to regret it. Gogol suspects something is wrong, and often feels like a poor substitute for Moushumi's ex-fiance, Graham, who abandoned her. Eventually, Moushumi has an affair with a man she knew long ago. This serves to highlight the final blow to her marriage. Finally, she slips in front of Gogol, and her affair with Demitri is revealed. The marriage ends soon after.
The story ends with Ashima selling the family home so she can live in India with her siblings for half the year. Sonia is preparing to marry an American man named Ben. Gogol is once again alone. But he feels comforted by one thing: before his father died, he finally told his son why he had chosen that name for him. By the end of the novel, Gogol has come to accept his name and picks up a collection of the Russian author's stories that his father had given him as a birthday present many years ago.
A film adaptation of the novel was released in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and India in March 2006. It was directed by Mira Nair and featured a screenplay written by Sooni Taraporevala.
Bengali version 
The Namesake was published in Bengali under the title Samanami.