Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Movie Based on the Book . . .

I'm always wary when I hear this phrase. I just know the book will be far better than the movie. Maybe it's because I'm a book person and I love to read.

Anyway, recently I've been reading a lot of the work by Jhumpa Lahiri including two collections of short stories: "Unaccustomed Earth" and "Interpreter of Maladies". I find her writing to be stunning and I practically fell headlong into these stories. I think they touched me in a special way because she writes primarily about immigrants to this country from India and/or their children. Because India, like Nigeria, was once a colony of Great Britain, there are many similarities in language. But, and I found this surprising, there are also many similarities between traditional Indian (Bengali) culture and traditional Igbo culture. What is most intriguing to me is how Ms. Lahiri tackles the complex conflict that arises when a person is transplanted from the land of their birth and childhood and begins a completely new life away from everyone and everything they have ever know. Online and in real life, I have seen how difficult life can be for immigrants (and sometimes but not as often for children of immigrants). I mean, people can be downright hostile to people who come here and have "an accent". Some of the staunchest opposition I've seen in my life are from folks with the same color skin who feel like African immigrants have stolen something that's not rightfully theirs. I don't remember which story of Ms. Lahiri's I read but a mother and daughter have gone out to the store and the store owner is talking to the daughter (who has an American accent) instead of the mother (who had an Indian accent). As if the mother is stupid and uneducated. I have been in that position too. And since my goverment name is not English, I have been on the receiving end of such hostility and ill-will until the person finds out I "speak English". As if speaking English with an accent isn't speaking English. Anyway, I think Ms. Lahiri does a masterful job of capturing these complexties with authenticity and poise.

After having read these two collections of short stories, I was ready to read her full length novel The Namesake. As usual, the writing was beautiful however I really do like the short stories better. I think she's a master at writing short stories.

When picking up the novel The Namesake at the library, one of the librarians asked if I had seen the film. I hadn't. I figured when I finished reading the book, I'd take a look at the film knowing full well the film would disappoint. And it did. Look, my biggest literary regret is having watched the film The Color Purple before reading the book. Never again if I can help it! Anyway, I had read the novel so I proceeded to watch the movie. I mean, the kids were doing their thing and I had to pause it 800 million times but I watched it. It was lovely filming but I felt like it missed so many of the nuances in the novel and important points and emotions that were conveyed in the writing.

For example, the Ganguli family comes home from a trip to India only to find some racist grafitti on their mailbox. Gogol, the son, is incensed. His father takes it all in stride. In the novel, Lahiri is careful to show how much his father's indifference annoyed Gogol. Gogol cannot understand his father. His father cannot understand him. Even though they are father and son, there is a huge gulf between them fostered by the fact that Gogol is American. But Indian too.

Also, the main struggle in the book is Gogol's real hatred of his name. I mean, he hates it. He fights against it relentlessly and eventually changes it as an adult only to find that he cannot get away from it. The movie kind of glosses over that but that struggle, in my opinion, is the crux of the whole book. It's not my opinion actually. The name of the novel is The Namesake. It's essential to talk about, at length and in depth, the name!

There are so many other examples . . . I mean, I guess if they tried to film every little detail we would have been watching a 6 hour mini-saga. But I could have done without the movie. I enjoyed immensely the visual images Ms. Lahiri created in her novel and would recommend her writing to anyone. It is like rich chocolate for the mind.

And as an aspiring writer myself, I was encouraged so much by the fact that Ms. Lahiri is successful as a short story writer (because I mainly write short stores).

Oh, and I remind myself to stay away from movies based on the book . . .


Anonymous said...

i'm sad to say that i never knew the namesake was a book. i loved the movie and will definitely be adding the book to my queue on shelfari. however, i'm with you-- i hate how knowing the movie colors how you perceive the book :(

Nettie said...

I enjoy her work as well. I just bought her newest novel on paperback this week. I love to read stories about India and stories about the differences between parents and their children. I think the differences are more marked with immigrants because you have the loss of culture to enhance it, but I think Americans (I use the term loosely) have the same struggles between generations.

I enjoyed the movie, though I agree that it didn't cover some of the deeper aspects of the book. I did like that they showed the private side of his parents relationship. I thought the film was cast well, too. I long to see a realistic movie that shows these same issues in black families. I think too many of them focus on one type of black family, the church going kind, and we are many kinds of people. I'm rambling now....

Ensayn1 said...

Hi Chi-Chi, This is to the first part of your post.

Its too bad that we have allowed the "dominant" culture to influence our minds so much as. My queen discribes her transformation coming from an English speaking country to the U.S. and how she was treated by Black Americans. Not always bad but not in a good light. Being a child she was met with questions like "did u live in trees or huts where you came from?" She also told me of the white kids paying her to talk so they could hear her accent. As we age in these United States these differences are played out by the "dominant" culture by pitting us, Black Americans against immigrant Blacks. This adult version of "do you live in trees" or "I'll pay you to talk" is played out in the adult realm in another way. I remember my Wisdom's sister stating how many of the white people that come to the bank where she works quietly saying to her (an immigrant Black) that she was much different than the "other" Blacks (indicating Black Americans.) Unfortunately, she fell for the trick and believed somehow she was better than American Blacks, based on white/dominant culture approval. Of course many Black Americans get wind of this game and run the opposite direction and ill-treat immigrant Blacks based on the inverse of such conversations. Again, both falling for the Oke-doke. As sure as the sun shines those same white people that assured sister in law's confidence that she is better than American Blacks, will go back and speak of her as the "funny talkin negra" that has come to this country taking away jobs from good white folk. I started off by saying its a shame because Black people of all nations should know how the dominant culture acts and plays "forked tongue" games since they enslaved Black in the Americas and colonized Blacks in other parts of the world including Africa.

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