“A book you won’t be able to put down. A Bangladeshi immigrant in London is torn between the kind, tedious older husband with whom she has an arranged marriage (and children) and the fiery political activist she lusts after. A novel that’s multi-continental, richly detailed and elegantly crafted.” —Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Sisterland
After an arranged marriage to Chanu, a man twenty years older, Nazneen is taken to London, leaving her home and heart in the Bangladeshi village where she was born. Her new world is full of mysteries. How can she cross the road without being hit by a car (an operation akin to dodging raindrops in the monsoon)? What is the secret of her bullying neighbor Mrs. Islam? What is a Hell's Angel? And how must she comfort the naïve and disillusioned Chanu?
As a good Muslim girl, Nazneen struggles to not question why things happen. She submits, as she must, to Fate and devotes herself to her husband and daughters. Yet to her amazement, she begins an affair with a handsome young radical, and her erotic awakening throws her old certainties into chaos.
Monica Ali’s splendid novel is about journeys both external and internal, where the marvelous and the terrifying spiral together.
A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.BRICK LANEMonica Ali. Scribner, $25 (384p) The immigrant world Ali chronicles in this penetrating, unsentimental debut has much in common with Zadie Smith's scrappy, multicultural London, though its sheltered protagonist rarely leaves her rundown East End apartment block where she is surrounded by fellow Bangladeshis. After a brief opening section set in East Pakistan Nazneen's younger sister, the beautiful Hasina, elopes in a love marriage, and the quiet, plain Nazneen is married off to an older man Ali begins a meticulous exploration of Nazneen's life in London, where her husband has taken her to live. Chanu fancies himself a frustrated intellectual and continually expounds upon the "tragedy of immigration" to his young wife (and anyone else who will listen), while letters from downtrodden Hasina provide a contrast to his idealized memories of Bangladesh. Nazneen, for her part, leads a relatively circumscribed life as a housewife and mother, and her experience of London in the 1980s and '90s is mostly indirect, through her children (rebellious Shahana and meek Bibi) and her variously assimilated neighbors. The realistic complexity of the characters is quietly stunning: Nazneen shrugs off her passivity at just the right moment, and the supporting cast Chanu, the ineffectual patriarch; Nazneen's defiant and struggling neighbor, Razia (proud wearer of a Union Jack sweatshirt); and Karim, the foolish young Muslim radical with whom Nazneen eventually has an affair are all richly drawn. By keeping the focus on their perceptions, Ali comments on larger issues of identity and assimilation without drawing undue attention to the fact, even gracefully working in September 11. Carefully observed and assured, the novel is free of pyrotechnics, its power residing in Ali's unsparing scrutiny of its hapless, hopeful protagonists.