Critical Overview

There was a full range of critiques when Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake first was published. No one disagreed about Lahiri's ability to write lyrical narrative. Some went so far as to state that they could almost taste the novel because of Lahiri's detailed representations of Indian food. Other reviewers dug into the issues of assimilation to a new country, praising Lahiri's authenticity or approving the glimpse she offered from the inside of the immigration issues. However, some critics found flaws, arguing that the author needed to probe more deeply into her characters. But no one denied Lahiri's genius for writing moving and detailed accounts of everyday life.

Michiko Kakutani, one of the most respected reviewers at the New York Times, writes: "Jhumpa Lahiri's quietly dazzling new novel, 'The Namesake,' is that rare thing: an intimate, closely observed family portrait that effortlessly and discreetly unfolds to disclose a capacious social vision." And David Kipen of the San Francisco Chronicle concludes that The Namesake is an "assured, seemingly unambitious but, in the end, quite moving first novel."

Ed Peaco, writing for the Antioch Review, emphasizes Lahiri's writing abilities: "Lahiri's delicate details and soft rhetorical touch create an absorbing reading experience in which characters become friends in the sense that we can rely on them for wit, insight, and affirmation." Another critic, Lee Langley, of the Spectator, also praises Lahiri's writing: "She has a marksman's eye for detail: the texture of flesh or food, fleeting unease, the small betrayal that signals the doom of a love affair. She tells us what her people wear, eat, look at and, on occasion, smell. The tone is unemphatic, quietly confident." Along the same lines is a review from Christopher Ruddy of Commonweal, who writes: "Lahiri's powers of description and dialogue are precise and revelatory, able to depict a person or place in an image or a phrase.  Ruddy continues by stating: "Her gift as a writer is to see clearly, acutely, generously, and to set such vision to lyrical prose. She has all the talents one needs to become an enduring writer."

Audrey Van Buskirk, writing for Seattle's the Stranger, found Lahiri's novel mouth-watering.  Van Buskirk's only complaint was that she wanted more. "It is a compliment to Lahiri, and to the richness of her book, that you wish the novel were longer."