So last weekend we had our book club – The Namesake.
I really love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing – all those long, lyrical sentences with clause after clause to string your thoughts along. But I was a bit disappointed in the plot. I felt the hero, Gogol, never really did anything. He simply waited for life to … well, happen.
His “goal” was to find his identity. Which isn’t a very creative goal, of course – I mean, that’s a basic coming-of-age story. But I’ll give Lahiri credit for throwing in the added complications of finding identity when you’re in a cross-cultural family and having a name that you never feel fits you properly in the first place. That was creative, and interesting. But the way Gogol goes about achieving his “goal” is to basically do … well … nothing. He just lets life happen and hopes for the best.
Yes, he changes and begins to find his identity, but not by any actions on his part. His awareness simply comes by way of circumstance (family death, etc.). I liked the book, but I wish the protagonist had some energy. I guess I like my protagonists to be heroes, and Gogol really wasn’t. I like heroes with courage. I like heroes who have to make excruciating choices. I think of Atticus Finch here. I think of Henry DeTamble (The Time Traveler’s Wife). I think of Jake Barnes (The Son Also Rises). In romance novels, I think of Kenny Traveler (Lady Be Good) and any of Laura Kinsdale’s fight-to-the-death-when-you’re-already-kicked-to-the-curb heroes (gosh, Jervaulx anyone?). I like my heroes with some “bite,” I guess.
How about you? What type of hero do you like? Who stands out in your mind?
I like my heroes to be like Atticus Finch. Someone who chooses the high road in spite of the uphill battle. I like my heroes to be human – to have the struggle we all feel when we’re making the decision to do the right thing. I like being inspired by their choices and to come away with something that influences me to make the right choices out of a pure motivation vs selfishness/fear etc..
I know that I am really tired of stories of heroes with feet of clay. You know, the do as I say people not as I do. Authors write books like this as if being cynical was sophisticated and difficult. The premise always seems to be that people are ugly, bad, and not very heroic, so grow up.
There ARE plenty of people like that in the world but the fact that they still make the news makes me hopeful that they are the exception, not the rule. A little sassiness is always fun, but I like heroes. Tolkien had a lot of heroes, and I like that they come in all sizes.
Jeanne — Yes, Atticus Finch takes the cake, doesn’t he? He is regularly listed in places like “Top 100 characters of all time.” No one forgets him! I like how you said you like your heroes to “be human.” I agree that’s very important. We need to be inspired by thinking we can struggle and win as they do. Nice answer!
Kat — I love your wording! I especially like “heroes with feet of clay” … nicely put. But you say a really important thing about modern novels here. Yes, cynicism does seem to be rampant, and you are SO right about many of today’s authors taking that too far and acting like there’s almost no point in an “old fashioned” rise-from-the-ashes hero. But I miss them!
Oh, on Twitter, I stumbled across this site called Chasing Heroes (http://chasingheroes.com). Rather fun. I love how they feature real people, too, like Chesley Sullenberger, who landed the plane on the Hudson.
I do appreciate fictional heroes with my nod going to old Atticus. But I do like my heroes to really be real. This way one can truly use them as a model and inspiriation; somebody with something that we know we can emulate. In this regard my nod goes to the one and only John Adams. He too believed that all men were created equal and he LIVED it. Unlike everybody’s nominal favorite Thomas Jefferson who, only theorized that all men were created equal bit could not summon up the courage to actually live it. He may not have been as sexy in all ways ala Jefferson but he lived his life bravely an with honor. Go J.A. my hero!
Chris — Wow, I was just over at Incurable Logophilia, commenting on her meme about “Books and Spouses,” and I said this VERY thing about you (BEFORE I read this!). I said that you don’t like fiction, but we came together regarding John Adams. And then I added that you did like one recent piece of fiction and that was “Mockingbird.” So funny to then see this response from you! Do I know my hubby or what????
You know me baby!!!!
I remember being disappointed with The Namesake as well. Gogol was just so ‘blah’. Lahiri’s writing is really nice, though, no doubt about it, so she carries the book further than a less polished author would have done with the same character.
Very hard to come up with a better ‘hero’ than Atticus…I agree with both you and your husband! (And now I’d like to read more about John Adams!)