The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jhumpa Lahiri has become my favorite author, and I expect the love affair will go on and on.

Reading her prose is like walking an endless strip of hot sand. It burns, but breaks softly beneath each footfall, exposing softer, cooler sand beneath. It is impossible to cross this stretch of sand quickly. This is the rhythm of her work, grand in scope, but possessed of infinite detail.

When a character cooks croquettes for a party, the reader sits in the kitchen and witnesses every move of the cook's hand, every ingredient, every utensil. Bread crumbs shuffled into a pan, oil popping in a pot on the stove, a slotted spoon. Such writing requires patience, but the reading is pure pleasure. It washes over you. Like life.

I do wonder if I am predisposed to enjoy Ms. Lahiri's work because it deals in the cultural discordance of life for immigrants. Her characters often live in a new country for decades over the course of a single book, and she touches on each nuance of their adjustment, but they never assimilate fully.

Best of all is the way she handles the relation of Bengali culture and Hindu ritual--the application of vermilion to the part of a married woman's hair, taking the dust from the feet of one's grandparents--details which seem exotic to me, offered with deftness and clarity, and within a compelling context. Always furthering the story. Always powerful.

Her stories are neither particularly happy, nor sad. In the case of The Namesake, we watch as a young man with a ponderously odd name grows up apart from the culture of his parents. And the events of his life, small and large, pass the way the events of our own lives pass--whether or not we're ready for them. Exquisite. Necessary. Accidental. Mundane until they are remembered years later.

I was recently reminded that the word nostalgia comes from the Greek word meaning pain from an old wound. This quality runs beneath the hot sand of all Lahriri's work. It's what will keep me coming back. Already, I am yearning for more of her signature slow burn.

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