Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Gogol" by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Gogol"  by Jhumpa Lahiri (June 16, 2003, 12 pages in The New Yorker)

"Gogol" is the fourth short story by  Jhumpa Lahiri  (all can be found on the web page of The New Yorker) I have read so far.   (There is background information on her in my other posts).   I liked all three of her prior stories a lot    I liked  "Gogol" a good bit more than her other three stories.   Like her other stories, it is set among Indian immigrants to Boston.    The men in the stories are often engineers and the women are either stay at home mothers or professional women.

"Gogol" starts out in India.    We learn about a father that anybody in the reading life would love to have had or maybe in some cases try to emmulate.  The father got his love of reading from his own father.   He read all of Dickens as a child, contemporary writers to him like Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham  (both coming soon on my blog) but his real love was for the Russians.        His favorite writer was Nickolai Gogol.

I think a lot of people will read this story so I will not tell any of the plot (other than to say structurally it is a perfect circle).     It is a very powerful story of the immigrant experience, of the power of naming and memory.    It is about how what we read (or do not) gives depth to our lives and perceptions.    It is about family binds and tradition.    It is about generational gaps.    It is about America and India.

I just loved this passage and from it you can judge from it if you like the prose of Lahiri:

"As a teen-ager he had gone through all of Dickens. He read newer authors as well, Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham, .. But most of all he loved the Russians. His paternal grandfather, a former professor of European literature at Calcutta University, had read from them aloud in English translation when Ashoke was a boy. Each day at teatime, as his brothers and sisters played kabadi and cricket outside, Ashoke would go to his grandfather’s room, and for an hour his grandfather would read supine on the bed, his ankles crossed and the book propped open on his chest, Ashoke curled at his side. For that hour Ashoke was deaf and blind to the world around him. He did not hear his brothers and sisters laughing on the rooftop, or see the tiny, dusty, cluttered room in which his grandfather read. “Read all the Russians, and then reread them,” his grandfather had said. “They will never fail you.” When Ashoke’s English was good enough, he began to read the books himself. It was while walking on some of the world’s noisiest, busiest streets, on Chowringhee and Gariahat Road, that he had read pages of “The Brothers Karamazov,” and “Anna Karenina,” and “Fathers and Sons.” Ashoke’s mother was always convinced that her eldest son would be hit by a bus or a tram, his nose deep into “War and Peace”—that he would be reading a book the moment he died."
I have read comments on Lahiri that say her focus as a writer is to narrow to achieve true greatness one day.   I could not disagree more.    I think there is one more story in the open to the public portion of the web page of  The New Yorker (some of these stories are in her collections) which I hope to read soon. 

You can read this story Here


Harvee said...

This sounds like a fascinating short story. Gogol is one of my favorite Russian classical novelists. I recommend Dead Souls to you, Mel, as I found it very, very humorous even though the title doesn't convey that.

Book Dilettante

Mel u said...

Book Dilettante-You are very insightful-I do love Gogol also-thanks so much for your comments as always

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Is this a short story that led to The Namesake, her novel? The story is very similar, but I hadn't heard that her novel had its origins in a short story...Lahiri is one of my favorite writers!

sel said...

Hmm, it sounds a lot like the beginnings of her book, The Namesake. Perhaps this story was a precursor to that book?

Rebecca said...

Sounds intriguing...I sometimes enjoy short stories!

Anonymous said...

Like your two commenters above, I'm quite surprised to find Gogol as a short story, because that's the layout of the book The Namesake. Maybe like many artists, before they do a large painting, they would first do many 'studies', or miniature sketches. This short story could be one of those. Just in case you're interested, here's a link to my review of The Namesake the book. In there you can further click to my review of the movie as well. Thanks for arousing our interest in Lahiri, she deserves all our attention!

Anonymous said...

I have read The Namesake, which I suppose is based off of this short story, and LOVED it. It brings to light how different generations can be and how a choice of a name can really impact a child's way of viewing the world.

CHE said...

Gogol is the short story version of The Namesake. I love both versions. Ashoke and Ashima are two of the gentlest characters I've come across in recent fiction.