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Photo of "The Namesake"

Members of the UNC Summer Reading Program Book Selection Committee have made “The Namesake,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, their choice for incoming undergraduates to read and discuss.

Published in 2003, “The Namesake” is the first work of fiction to be selected for the program. Committee members described it as a moving
account of an Indian immigrant family's experience in the United States.

Lahiri traces the path of young Ashoke Ganguli as he comes to this country to study for a Ph.D. and then returns to India briefly to collect his bride, Ashima, through an arranged marriage.

As their son, Gogol, grows up, he becomes increasingly embarrassed by his name  — that of a Russian writer of special significance to Ashoke, his Indian culture and his family. In an act of independence, when he goes to college, he changes his name.

Set in the cities of Boston and New York, the novel provides an intimate portrait of an Indian family — in particular, their U.S.-born son — as they struggle to find a place for themselves in a culture that is both inviting and alienating.

It is author Lahiri’s first novel and follows her short story collection “Interpreter of Maladies,” which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize.

A nine-member book selection committee of students, faculty and staff began meeting in September to consider books for this year’s program.

“This book is rich with poignant examples of cultural disconnections and
complexities,” said Joseph L. Templeton, committee chair and Venable Professor of Chemistry. “We are hopeful that it will broaden readers’ understanding of other cultures as it did ours.”

Committee members noted that their choice ties to the University priority of internationalizing the campus and the student experience.

The selection committee started with 221 suggestions about books, types of books or general topics from members of the University community.

Covering a diverse range of topics, authors and viewpoints, those suggestions included nominations and input from the University community that resulted from a campus-wide e-mail, online postings to the reading program web page (www.unc.edu/srp/) and recommendations from alumni, members of the public and others that were sent to the chancellor’s office.

The committee’s criteria for selecting a book include finding a work that will be intellectually stimulating to entering freshmen and transfer students and will provoke thoughtful discussion. Other priorities are that the book should be engaging, relatively short and easy to read and address a topic or theme that students can apply to their own lives, such as societal issues.

UNC’s program focuses on discussion and dialogue, not the book itself. The goal is to create an intellectual climate in which students can come to their own conclusions and turn information into insight.

The non-credit assignment, an academic icebreaker, is voluntary and strongly encouraged.

Next fall’s discussion groups will be held Aug. 21; fall semester classes will begin on Aug. 23.


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