It is easy to see why Lahiri won critical acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize with Interpreter of Maladies: these are stories that resound with emotional punch, unhindered by gimmicky prose or twisted plot devices, laser-focused explorations of the human condition. Though Bengali immigrants are Lahiri’s predominant type of characters, we also get a couple of stories set in India, where we get to see a glimpse of the society the other characters have emmigrated from. This is the kind of book that anyone can read and get lost in, and in fact, everyone should.
This is a fantastic novel by a talented writer. To me a good book is characterized by two things: it makes me want to read more from that author, and it makes me want to write as well, reminds me of the magic of the written word. The Namesake accomplishes both.
Anyone who is an immigrant, or can still identify with their immigrant heritage, is sure to connect with the story of the Gangulis, whether they are the immigrants themselves or the first generation of Whatever-American. Lahiri’s simple prose gets to the emotional point of each sentence without making it sappy or heavyhanded; you truly come to care for each member of the family and their own struggle, and especially for Gogol, whom you learn his past and present and surrounding circumstances straight from their own point of view. There is no gimmick here, no surprise revelation, no conspiracy of any sort, just a straightforward story of lives lived between two sides of one self, and the reprecussions of lives split in two, whether the parts are old/young, male/female, Bengali/American, past/future.
After reading The Namesake there is no doubt left why Lahiri is hailed as one of the best new writers in modern American literature, why we suddenly care so much about the lives and dreams of the Bengali-Americans that inhabit her stories: in many ways, they are us, and we are them, and Lahiri is slowly showing that truth one brilliant book at a time.
Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero is an excellent (if quick) look at the influence of Jews, Judaism and Torah on the creation of the genre of comic books. Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is an avid collector who knows the genre, knows the history, and presents it in very digestable format based around a concept and a superhero or team of heroes that embody it. Jews make up a disproportionate percentage of the early pioneers of the comic book genre mainly because in the 30s and 40s it was one of the few jobs Jews could have in publishing, and whether consciously or not, these guys drew on their experiences as Jews (and all that entailed, from the immigrant/children of immigrants experience, to their varying levels of observance, to their place in a still anti-Semitic society) when creating the characters that would live for decades to come and become American icons. There are books that tackle the subject more in depth, but this one has the advantage of also expounding the connection to the Torah, which makes it unique in the field of Jewish publications. Any Jewish fan of comic books should get and read this book for sure.
Entertainment Weekly has a web article where some famous folks talk about the comic book that hooked them.
For me, it was my first American comic: The Amazing Spider-Man #300.
It was 1988, I was 13; I was at the mall with my family and I was allowed to wander off to the nearby toy store while they shopped for clothes or something. I’d gone into this store before to look at the toys, but I’d never paid attention to the area near the front where they had a bunch of comics. For some reason that day I decided to take a look over there, and this issue grabbed my attention immediately. Spider-man in black?! Awesome!
I went over to my mom and asked for $2 to buy the comic, which she gave me without any fuss (I think it’s because it was for the comic book and not for video games) and I bought my first (American) comic. Now, I’d been buying comics for a long time already, but mostly of the .25-cents funny book variety in Spanish, of which they carried a lot in the stores in Puerto Rico (as well as some comics brought over from Mexico, like Memin and Kaliman), but Spider-Man 300 was the one that truly hooked me into comics as a hobby (addiction), one that I would indulge in for about a decade after that.
These days I don’t really buy comics anymore; I’ve lost patience with the monthly format and frankly, I’m so out of touch that, every time I go to the comics store thinking about getting back in, I get so lost that I simply leave. I did start buying some trade paperbacks for Marvel’s new Ultimate line (X-Men in particular) and have enjoyed them a lot, so I have kept buying them. My friend Josh is still very much a comics addict, so I now raid his house for new stuff to read.
Funny thing is, even though I started with Spider-Man, shortly thereafter I dropped it (after the wedding issue, I believe) and made the jump to the title(s) that would become my absolute favorite to this day, X-Men.