“The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky” by Jana Casale

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky

The title of this book is so intriguing that it would be difficult to come upon it without picking it up to least see what it was about. And for someone like me who has not read Noam Chomsky but always felt I should, it was something I could immediately identify with. The book is a debut novel by a young writer, which further appealed to me — there is always the hope of discovering a fresh voice amidst the vast numbers of books that get published these days. I was happy to find that my hope, in this case, was not belied — Jana Casale does indeed have a writing style that I found refreshing and eminently readable.

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky traces the life of a woman, Leda, all the way from being a college student to a grandparent, ending with her death. The narrative is entirely in the form of vignettes — detailed descriptions of different days along the timeline of her life, with the earlier stages chronicled much more frequently than the later ones. I use the word “narrative” rather than “story” or “plot” because there isn’t one as such. There are no dramatic moments, no twists and turns in Leda’s life, no overwhelming decisions she makes that determine the course of her life. While this may not seem exciting or book-worthy, it is exactly how most people live — you could take the life of any average person and it could be written about in a book, similar to how Leda’s life has been chronicled in this book.  In fact, reading it is just like reading Leda’s diary, had she maintained one. Also, given how similar Leda’s early life is to the author’s — Leda wants to be an author and moves to San Francisco with her husband — the book seems to very autobiographical.

So what is it that makes this book worth reading, given than it is not capturing anything particularly newsworthy about anyone particularly remarkable? I would have to say that it is precisely this real-life narration of a person’s life that makes it unique, and completely relatable. Each vignette is extremely well-written — simple and straightforward, without any literary gimmicks of the kind that are so common in contemporary literature. It is also extremely candid, with frank observations about every single thing that human beings experience in their lives. Nothing is off the table, even bodily functions, which are usually considered too gross to be written about in fiction. The first half of the book, which captures Leda’s innermost thoughts and feelings of insecurity and loneliness as a young woman, her self-consciousness, the intensity of her emotions at the beginning stages of a serious relationship, and her desperation to get married and settle down, are especially well done and have an authenticity to them that seems all too real, reinforcing the pathos of the human condition.

And by the way, the unusual — and very catchy — title of the novel refers to a book by Noam Chomsky that Leda had bought as a college student, inspired by a cute guy reading a Noam Chomsky book that she sees at a coffee shop and who she hopes will hit on her. While that does not happen, she also does not ever get down to reading the Noam Chomsky book that she had brought, and it is eventually discarded by her daughter when she is going through her mother’s things after her death. It seems be an apt metaphor for life — that it rarely goes according to plan.

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky
Author: Jana Casale
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: April 2018

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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