Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spoiler alert! - updated

Don't keep reading if you're not done; I just wanted to respond while the book was still fresh in my mind.

First: LOVED IT.

Lahiri's descriptions were so rich, especially--I'm noticing this now as I think back through the book--when it comes to the aspects of Bengali & American life that she juxtaposes. Here are the ones that I could think of:

  • Food: At first I thought she was describing the Indian dishes for the benefit of those of us who don't know the cuisine, but then the descriptions of the restaurants Gogol ate at & the food at his first dinners with Maxine & Moushumi were just as minute, & so hunger-inducing.
  • Family: His repressed relationship with his parents vs. Ruth's hippie parents & Maxine's laid-back parents. Even the things they talked about at the dinner table were so different: I remember something about him thinking that his parents would never argue about movies or music.
  • Parties: the loud, crazy Bengali parties vs. the dinner parties he went to in NY, especially with Maxine's family
  • Clothes: She goes to such great lengths to describe Gogol's mother's saris, his jeans, his girlfriends' sweaters, shoes, everything. I was particularly struck at the beginning with his mother's reaction to the hospital gown she had to trade her sari in for when she was giving birth, because it only reached to the knee.
  • Homes: The Gangulis' fastidiousness (I loved the remark about some Bengali families laying newspaper on the carpet in the room the kids were in!) was quickly rejected by him as soon as college, & he loved the quiet disorder in Maxine's family's house.
  • Death: Forgot this one initially, but it stuck out to me more than most. Gogol seems to always notice graveyards, perhaps because they're so different from the Indian funeral customs. But in the end, the photo of his father in their house on Pemberton Road is "the closest thing" he has to a grave.
Also, I thought it was really interesting that death is what spelled the end of Gogol/Nikhil's two committed relationships. First, his father's death yanked him back into his Bengali world, causing things to end between him & Maxine. Then, the death of that secretary at Moushumi's department was what caused her to find Dmitri's resume & contact him, beginning the affair that ended her marriage with Nikhil. Both times, it seemed like the past came crashing into the new world he was living in: his Bengali past intruding on his firmly established American life, then this American man from Moushumi's past intruding on their somewhat Bengali (if only because they were both Bengali) life.

Did anyone else find it ironic that the man who ruined Gogol's marriage, the one whose "name upset Gogol more than his own" for the first time, also had a Russian name? It's a good thing Gogol is my husband's favorite author (he served his mission in St. Petersburg & majored in Russian at BYU), because now I can read "The Overcoat!"

Lastly (I know this is long), I find it interesting that after all of their rejection of the lifestyle their parents created for them, Gogol & Sonia wind up appreciating it, even embracing it. It reminds me of that little rebellion period that I think most of us go through, where our parents are uncool & not smart in the least, & then we mature, get married, have kids, & end up doing a lot of the same things our parents did.


Heather said...

I finished this book a couple days ago, and REALLY enjoyed it. The details sucked me in, though I had a hard time figuring out why. The storyline wasn't fast-paced, but there was something about the book that drew me in and held me (which these days is an accomplishmentm, seeing as I'm over 8 months pregnant and exhausted and the only thing that really holds my interest right now is my bed). I loved it. Good pick! (Not to mention the first one I've read in a while, since I could actually get my hands on it without resorting to buying it.)

Jaclyn said...

I have to admit, I was very drawn by this book at the beginning. The descriptive language used by the author is so truly sensory- I agree with the previous comments; the description of the food made my mouth water and I could almost see, touch, hear, taste whatever the author was talking about.

Sadly, this one failed to keep my interest. I kept waiting and waiting for Gogol's inevitable change of heart, but it didn't seem to come quick enough for me. I felt like the book had one speed and my mind was moving faster.

I also had a hard time finding sympathy for Gogol's shattered marriage considering: 1. he had no qualms about having an affair with a married woman himself, and 2. he married an EXTREMELY sexually free woman. I mean, sleeping with one man after lunch and a different one after dinner? Did he really expect that sort of woman to actually settle down?

I had a hard time with Gogol expressing so much of his rebellion against his Bengali heritage through sex. I know that millions of Americans live their lives the exact way, but I just kept thinking that in trying to assert his independence, he was also succeeding in ruining his future. I found the pure amount of writing devoted to his relationships distracting after a while.

I appreciate that he and Sonia finally came full circle and began to embrace their Bengali culture. And to learn more about the culture itself was fascinating. Sadly, it just didn't satiate my appetite as I hoped it would.