Russian author Nikolai Gogol was born in Velikie Sorochintsy, in what is now Ukraine, on March 20, 1809. His parents, Maria Ivanovna and Vasilii Afanas’evich Gogol-Ianovsky owned land; though the family was not rich, they were relatively well off. Gogol was the first infant in the family to survive, though Maria Ivanovna and Vasilii Afanas’evich went on to have five more children. Gogol began writing satirical poetry in high school, though he was not a good student. However, after his father died in 1825, Gogol pursued his studies with greater dedication. It was around this time that he began writing longer poems, but few, if any, have survived. In 1828, Gogol moved to St. Petersburg in the hopes of securing employment, but he was sorely disappointed by the low-level civil service positions available to him. He eventually took a poorly paying job that left him with enough time to pursue his writing. In 1829 he self-published the poetry collection Gants Kiukhel’garten under the name V. Alov. It received such bad reviews that Gogol burned all of his remaining copies.
That same year, Gogol traveled to Germany for six weeks before returning to St. Petersburg and taking a job in the ministry of the interior. He also resumed his literary career, publishing essays, poems, and historical chapters in various periodicals. Almost all were written under various pseudonyms. He eventually began to attract the attention of literary patrons, including the great Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. Through these connections, Gogol secured a job as a history teacher at the Patriotic Institute for the daughters of the nobility in 1831. At this time, Gogol began collecting family anecdotes related to the Ukraine, most of which comprise his earliest short stories, first published in Vechera na khutore bliz Dikan’ki in two volumes in 1831 and 1832. The work established Gogol’s reputation as a writer of note.
In 1834, Gogol joined the University of St. Petersburg as an assistant professor in history, but he left in 1835. He also published his second and third story collections that year, Arabeski and Mirgorod. Both were well received by critics. Over the course of the 1830s and early 1840s, Gogol also wrote several plays, with mixed success. In 1842, Gogol achieved his greatest literary success, releasing the short story collection Sochineniia, which includes ‘‘The Overcoat,’’ his bestknown story. He also published his first and only novel, Mertvye dushi, which is best known in English translation as Dead Souls. Both works represent Gogol at the height of his prowess. Afterwards, he struggled to write a sequel to his novel and destroyed several versions.
By the late 1840s, Gogol had befriended Father Matvei Konstantinovsky. The priest lambasted the author’s work as vain and sinful. Believing Konstantinovsky and fearing for his soul, Gogol stopped writing in 1852. He also began fasting, ultimately starving himself. Despite the efforts of friends and other clergy, Gogol refused to eat, and he died February 21, 1952.
Indian American Immigration in the Late Twentieth Century
Until 1946, Indian and other Asian immigrants experienced greater difficulty entering the United States than their European and Latin American counterparts. This changed to some extent with the signing of the Luce-Cellar Bill by President Harry S. Truman in 1946. The bill was incorporated into the Immigration Act of 1946; it allowed Indians the ability to gain citizenship to the United States. The bill also allowed Indian immigrants to travel back and forth between India and America more freely. At the time, however, only 100 Indian citizens per year were able to immigrate legally to the United States. With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, however, this number was expanded to 20,000. This change led to a marked influx in the Indian population in America. Indeed, The Namesake begins in 1968, three years after the act was passed. The Gangulis’ presence in America, as well as that of the myriad Bengali friends they make, is attributable to this act.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Jhumpa Lahiri, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.