The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Finding Meaning in the End

As a classically trained violist, I tend to think of resonance in terms of music. A resonant note hangs in the air after you finish playing, continuing your sound through a rest or the end of a phrase. This draws your audience in, allowing the music to continue even when you are not playing. I am discovering that resonance isn’t just found in music, though. A thought or idea can be resonant too, staying with you long after it is imparted. And the more I read, I realize that the richest place new thoughts and ideas are stored is in a good piece of literature. Like a resonant piece of music, a well-written novel sticks with you, leaving impressions that sometimes last for a lifetime.

When I finished Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, one of our newest Big Read books, this idea of resonance kept coming to mind. Even today, months after finishing the novel, I find the book’s characters and their struggles creeping back into my thoughts. What is it about her writing that has stuck with me so strongly? The story is good, yes, but it’s much deeper than the narrative. She has a way of writing that makes you feel like you are a part of the character’s lives; you understand their struggles and can identify with the painful, convoluted situations they face. Lahiri has embedded something very real in The Namesake: humanity.

Often times in life, we crave and seek closure. And many times, closure is built into the end of things: graduations, goodbye parties, award ceremonies. But what happens when you can’t neatly tie things up and happily move on? The challenge comes when life requires us to create our own closure and find meaning behind an experience that perhaps we don’t quite understand yet.

Lahiri depicts this challenge so beautifully in The Namesake, drawing readers into her characters' lives and the painful situations they face. Divorce, alienation, death: these are all real-life trials that her characters deal with. We are left to put the pieces together alongside her characters, searching for meaning behind the pain and wrong that has been committed. There is no comfort in a simple answer, and no comfort in a sense of closure to their struggles.

How many times in our own lives are we left to find meaning and closure when there is none? We all want to find meaning in the end of things; it helps us understand why our lives have taken certain paths and move forward. Lahiri reveals this deep human desire, crafting painful and real situations that continue to resonate with me. Like the end of a beautiful piece of music, this concept of searching for closure has stuck with me, haunting me long after I finished the book. And as I continue to seek closure throughout my own life, The Namesake will serve as a reminder of the human quest for meaning in the end.


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