NEA Big Read

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellow Jhumpa Lahiri is known publicly by her nickname because her kindergarten teacher deemed it easier to pronounce than her proper name, Nilanjana Sudeshna. Born to Bengali émigré parents and newly arrived in the United States from London, she had to grapple early with questions of identity, and the impact of this is palpable in The Namesake. In this 2003 bestseller by the Pulitzer-prize-winning author, two generations of a Bengali-American family in Massachusetts struggle between new and old, assimilation and cultural preservation, striving toward the future and longing for the past. This is “a story of guilt and liberation; it speaks to the universal struggle to extricate ourselves from … family and obligation and the curse of history” (Boston Globe). The novel “beautifully conveys the émigré’s disorientation, nostalgia, and yearning for tastes, smells, and customs left behind” (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Lahiri can be seen in a cameo as “Aunt Jhumpa” in the 2006 film adaptation. Read more here >

Introduction to the Book:

A father and mother, a son and daughter: two generations of a typical Bengali–American family, poised uneasily atop the complex and confounding fault lines common to the immigrant experience. Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake deftly demonstrates how the familiar struggles between new and old, assimilation and cultural preservation, striving toward the future and longing for the past, play out in one particular set of foreign-born parents and their American-born children.

In the novel's opening pages, Ashima Ganguli, who left India to join her husband Ashoke in America, is about to deliver their first child, a son. Following Bengali custom, the child is to have two names—a pet name, for use only by family and close friends, and a "good" name, to be used everywhere else. Almost by mistake, the boy comes to be known as Gogol, named for his father's favorite Russian author. In a harrowing flashback, the reason for Ashoke's attachment to the Russian writer is revealed.

Gogol's father embraces their new life, while his mother longs for her homeland. As Gogol enters school, they attempt to convert his unusual name to a more typical one, but the boy stolidly rejects the transition, refusing to become, as he thinks of it, "someone he doesn't know." Soon he regrets his choice, as the name he's held onto seems increasingly out of place.

The novel's finely wrought descriptions of Bengali food, language, family customs, and Hindu rituals draw us deep inside the culture that Gogol's parents treasure while highlighting his alienation from it. Gogol finishes school, becomes an architect, falls in love more than once, and eventually marries, without ever fully embracing his heritage. His decades-long unease with his name is a perfect distillation of the multiple dislocations—cultural, historic, and familial—experienced by first-generation Americans. At the novel's climax, when loss compounds loss and Gogol's family structure is forever changed, he begins to understand, at least in part, his parents' longing for the past, and the sacrifices they made to help him be what he is—truly American.

Confronting Identity: An Arts & Ideas Fellows Town Hall

It has become a Festival tradition for our high school Festival Fellows to begin our Festival and Ideas program with their own Town Hall. Join them this year as they explore the themes of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, opening up a public discussion examining the importance of one's culture and background, gender, and name.

Sat, June 8, 2019, 1:00pm  Details
1 hr 30 min


with Kashyap Jani and Friends

Garba360 brings the exhilarating energy of folk dances garba and raas to new communities for all to celebrate through dance. Garba is a form of Indian folk dance and music from Gujarat, ever evolving through creative voices. Garba360 has enlivened festivals in Chicago, New York and San Francisco with the invigorating traditional music of Kashyap Jani and Friends and their shared passion about spreading their culture. The clapping, spinning and bright colors of garba commemorate wedding celebrations and the vivacious Hindu festival Navratri. Garba360 instructors guide new dancers, using the dance to educate about Navratri and its mythological importance.

Sun, June 9, 2019, 7:00pm  Details
1 hr 30 min

Cultural Identity

Experience the New Haven Cultural Heritage Tour by bike. The tour tells the pre-1970 stories of the experiences, contributions and hardships faced in New Haven by five of the cultural and ethnic groups that have enriched our community.

Sat, June 15, 2019, 9:00am  Details
3 hrs

We Knew Haven: A Youth Activist Perspective

featuring New Haven Youth Activists

Featuring New Haven Youth Activists asking the questions: What do you imagine your New Haven to look like? How do you feel your identity is connected to your activism? What are youth activists doing to combat gentrification, racism, over-surveillance downtown?

Sat, June 15, 2019, 1:00pm  Details
1 hr 30 min

Split Tooth

Tanya Tagaq

Fact can be as strange as fiction. It can also be as dark, as violent, as rapturous. In the end, there may be no difference between them.
A girl grows up in Nunavut in the 1970s. She knows joy, and friendship, and parents’ love. She knows boredom, and listlessness, and bullying. She knows the tedium of the everyday world, and the raw, amoral power of the ice and sky, the seductive energy of the animal world.

Wed, June 19, 2019, 5:30pm  Details
1 hr 30 min

Words Reclaiming Worlds

featuring New Haven / Northeast writers and spoken word artists

Poets and other creative writers from the northeastern United States share poems and conversation about the shifting relationship between identity and place. How can poets and other culture creators challenge or shift the identity of a place? How can a place challenge or shift our own intersecting identities?

Sat, June 22, 2019, 1:00pm  Details
1 hr 30 min