It is 1971, and the Gangulis have moved from Harvard Square to a university town outside Boston. Ashoke works as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the university and shares a secretary named Mrs. Jones with the rest of the department. Ashoke is happy, but Ashima feels even more alienated since they have moved away from their Bengali friends. After two years in university-subsidized housing, Ashima and Ashoke decide to buy a home. The new house is on Pemberton Road, and there are no Bengali neighbors. When Gogol is five years old, Ashima becomes pregnant again. It is a difficult pregnancy, and Ashima spends most of her time in her bedroom while Gogol and Ashoke eat together.
Gogol starts school late because his mother is too sick to drive him to school on the first day. When he gets to kindergarten on the first day, his parents tell the principal, Mrs. Lapidus, that she should call Gogol by his formal name, "Nikhil." However, she overhears them referring to him as "Gogol" and asks him what he would like to be called. When he answers "Gogol," it sticks. Ashima gives birth to Gogol's little sister, Sonia, in May. By now, the Gangulis have made many Bengali friends in the other suburbs of Boston, and on Saturdays, they drive to one of their homes for parties. While the parents eat and speak in Bengali, the children gather in a bedroom and watch a movie. When Sonia is seven months old, she has her rice ceremony and refuses all the food offered to her.
In the next years, Ashoke finds out about the deaths of both his parents and Ashima finds out about the death of her mother. They learn about these deaths by phone call. They are cut off from their families in India, celebrating American holidays and decorating the outside of their home in American styles for the seasons. Ashoke begins to dress like his American colleagues, but Ashima continues to wear a sari.
Ashoke takes Gogol to the library and shows him the section of books by the Russian author after whom he is named. Gogol doesn't mind his name as a child, but when he is eleven, his class takes a trip to a cemetery. The students are instructed to make rubbings of the gravestones' surfaces, and it is during this exercise that Gogol realizes he will never see another "Gogol." He proceeds to make rubbings of the unusual names he finds, since he relates to those people.
Chapter 4 begins in 1982, on Gogol's fourteenth birthday. To celebrate, his parents throw a huge party with all their Bengali friends. Before he goes to bed, his father comes into his room and gives him his birthday present: The Short Stories of Nikolai Gogol. Gogol is more interested in listening to the Beatles than looking at the book, and he is unable to appreciate it. Ashoke begins to tell Gogol about the train accident that made him appreciate the author Gogol so much, but stops because he realizes Gogol cannot yet understand. Gogol stashes the book away when his father leaves.
The next year, the Gangulis decide to go to Calcutta for eight months while Ashoke is up for sabbatical at the university. There is not much for Gogol and Sonia to do to occupy themselves in Calcutta, so they spend most of their time indoors. While in India, they take a family trip to Delhi and the Taj Mahal. After eight months, the family returns to the house on Pemberton road and life goes back to normal.
Gogol begins his junior year of high school in the fall, taking English with Mr. Lawson. Mr. Lawson knows about the Russian author Gogol and assigns the class to read one of his short stories, "The Overcoat." Gogol learns that the author with his name had a miserable life and it embarrasses him to hear Mr. Lawson talk about it in front of the class. One night, Ashima and Ashoke leave for the weekend and while they are gone, Gogol drives to a college party with his friends, Colin, Jason, and Marc. He meets a girl named Kim and introduces himself as Nikhil to her; she is the first girl he kisses.
The theme of name and identity is important in Chapter 3, when Gogol starts kindergarten. His parents intend for him to go by "Nikhil" at school and "Gogol" at home, but Gogol is confused and doesn't want a new name: "He is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn't know. Who doesn't know him." As a child, he associates a new name with a new identity. Gogol is not bothered by the unusual nature of his name until he is eleven and realizes, on a class trip to a cemetery, that his name is unique. He makes rubbings of the other gravestones with names he has never heard before because he relates to them. By his fourteenth birthday, Gogol has come to hate his name and resents being asked about it. There are many different names for Gogol and Sonia to remember for their relatives in Calcutta, "to signify whether they are related on their mother's or their father's side, by marriage or by blood." At the college party, Gogol is reluctant to introduce himself to Kim as "Gogol," so he says his name is Nikhil. It gives him the confidence to kiss her: "It hadn't been Gogol who had kissed Kim... Gogol had nothing to do with it."
The tension between the way things are in the United States and the way things are in India is apparent in the character of Mrs. Jones, the elderly secretary whom Ashoke shares with the other members of his department at the university. She lives alone and sees her children and grandchildren rarely; this is "a life that Ashoke's mother would find humiliating." As the Ganguli children grow up as Americans, their parents give in to certain American traditions. For his fourteenth birthday, Gogol has two celebrations: one that is typically American and one that is Bengali.
The language barrier arises as an issue as Gogol and Sonia grow older. Ashima and Ashoke send them to Bengali language and culture classes every other Saturday, but "it never fails to unsettle them, that their children sound just like Americans, expertly conversing in a language that still at times confounds them, in accents they are accustomed not to trust."
Ashima feels alienated in the suburbs; this alienation of being a foreigner is compared to "a sort of lifelong pregnancy," because it is "a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts... something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect." Gogol also feels alienated, especially when he realizes that "no one he knows in the world, in Russia or India or America or anywhere, shares his name. Not even the source of his namesake."
As Gogol gains consciousness as a child, maturing from infancy, the third person voice begins to favor his point of view. For the first few months in the Ganguli's new home, Gogol plays in the yard; "for the rest of his life he will remember that cold overcast spring, digging in the dirt, collecting rocks, discovering black and yellow salamanders beneath an overturned slab of slate."
The theme of the relationship between parents and children becomes prominent, as Gogol grows old enough to interact with his parents as a child. While Ashima is pregnant with Sonia, Gogol and Ashoke eat dinner alone together and Ashoke scolds Gogol for playing with his food. He says, "At your age I ate tin," to draw attention to how grateful Gogol should be for having the food to eat. The relationship between Ashima and Ashoke and their own parents is also mentioned when they find out that their parents have died; Ashoke's parents both die of cancer, and Ashima's mother dies of kidney disease. They learn about these deaths by phone calls.
Ashoke decides not to tell Gogol about his near-death experience because he realizes that Gogol is not able to understand it yet. This decision points to the tension between life and death: "Today, his son's birthday, is a day to honor life, not brushes with death. And so, for now, Ashoke decides to keep the explanation of his son's name to himself."