By February 24, 2008 0 Comments Read More →


Recently I led a discussion of Jhumpa Lahiri’s powerful and involving novel, The Namesake, with a group of graduate library science students.  As it happened, all of the participants were female, and they were fairly unanimous in their lack of enthusiasm for the book’s protagonist, a young American male dealing with identity issues related to the unusual name given him by his parents, who had immigrated to the United States from India.  The women in the group mockingly referred to this man, Gogol, as “Goggles,” and said they found him boring, annoyingly passive, and not at all the kind of guy they would ever pick as a boyfriend or a husband.  Instead, they said they wished the book had told them more about his sister, Sonia, who is a minor character in the story.  I was surprised by their reaction because I liked the novel and found it beautifully written and constructed.  When I asked if they had trouble relating to Gogol because he was male and they were female, they bristled.  No, they were perfectly willing to identify with a male protagonist — for instance, they much preferred Cold Mountain and The Kite Runner, two other books with men as the main characters.  I’ve noticed in other book discussions that readers generally find the book unsatisfying if they feel the protagonist is unsympathetic — although in this case, I think Lahiri was actually trying to make Gogol a likeable character.  Going into a discussion, it’s probably worthwhile for the leader to consider whether or not the group will relate strongly to the book’s protagonist, since that factor may have a critical effect on the direction the conversation takes.



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

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