by Monica Ali
Published June 2nd 2004 by Scribner (first published 2003)
Man Booker Prize Nominee (2003), Guardian First Book Award Nominee (2003), Orwell Prize Nominee (2004), Audie Award for Fiction, Abridged (2004), Kiriyama Prize Nominee for Fiction (2004)
Chai rating: 3.5 out of 5 cups
Nazneen, a 16-year-old village girl from Bangladesh, is married off to a man 20 years her senior and moves to a council flat in London with nothing but memories. She is constantly haunted by her mother’s suicide and worries about her sister, Hasina, who ran off to Dhaka to pursue a ‘love marriage’, leaving the family in a cloud of shame. Unlike her sister, Nazneen is determined not to shake up the order of her destiny and thus resigns herself to a presumably easier life of domesticity and submission. Her world is turned upside down when she falls in love with the young and charismatic Karim; suddenly everything that she thought she was so sure of become uncertainties. With two young daughters and a husband whom, despite his physical imperfections and professional flops, she cares deeply for, Nazneen must decide whether to flow with the tide of fate or be the director of her own show.
Brick Lane is a captivating narration of the immigrant experience and while the minute details of daily life can sometimes be tedious to read through, they do add up to valuable lessons on love and destiny. The characters are comical and profound, and each one feels like someone I would actually bump into on my travels within London. They offer a vivid tapestry of the different intersections we make as humans in our quest to find,and define, home.
This book reminds of Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’ and while I prefer the latter book, I am amazed that this is Monica Ali’s debut novel. It is very well written.
Why I didn’t give it 5 stars: Hasina’s letters took up a lot of space in the book and I feel like they didn’t contribute much to the plot. Granted, they were written by an illiterate ‘village girl’, but those damn letters were written in such poor English that I could barely make out Hasina was trying to communicate to Nazneen. I feel like the book would have moved along just fine without them.
My favorite quote: “What I did not know – I was a young man – is that there are two kinds of love. The kind that starts off big and slowly wears away, that seems you can never use it up and then one day is finished. And the kind that you don’t notice at first, but which adds a little bit to itself every day, like an oyster makes a pearl, grain by grain, a jewel from the sand.”
Would I recommend it? Yes, especially if you like Zadie Smith or Amy Tan.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?