Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The cultural assimilation of immigrants in their adopted homelands has long been the subject of great fiction, from a classic American writer like Willa Cather to Andre DuBus to Amy Tan. When I read that a movie version of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake was forthcoming, I recalled that this was a book I'd always wanted to read and had never gotten around to. Too late! Suddenly everyone wants to read it and I'm on a waiting list along with all of our other customers. No special treatment for librarians on staff!

Sunday afternoons are generally "movie time" for my friend Don and me and last Sunday was no exception. We chose The Namesake and we both found it very satisfying as a story and as a movie. For some reason that - who knows - may have to do with a previous life, I'm drawn to the Indian culture, the large, raucus family gatherings, the music, clothing, all of it. The very talented director of this movie, Mira Nair also directed Monsoon Wedding, another favorite of mine, as well as an early Denzel Washington flick called Mississippi Masala.

Nair was the perfect choice to handle Lahiri's novel. She doesn't shy away from stories of race and culture bias but she isn't heavy handed with our human foibles. All of these books and movies explore the difficulties of people who very much want to "fit in" without completely dismissing their heritage. The generation gap is clear as the parents prefer to stick with the "old ways" while the children rebel, finding love, friendship and a future through new eyes unclouded by ancient prejudices. The path is seldom easy and not all assimilation stories end as well as these do but it behooves us to remember that we were all strangers here once.

On the way out of the theatre I was approached by a library- goer who recognized me. She opined that the movie was far better than the book - not something we hear that often. Of course, I laughed to myself because she might as well have thrown down a gaunlet on the dim theatre stairs. Now I HAVE to read the book!


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