Book review-Brick Lane

by Monica Ali

Published June 2nd 2004 by Scribner (first published 2003)

Literary Awards

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

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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?

 

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Do you have an un-bucket list?

Have you ever seen the movie, The Bucket list, in which the characters played by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson make a list of all the things they want to do before they die? I watched it a few years back and was hugely inspired by it.  I made my own bucket list- a very long list of fantastically adventurous things to do, places to visit, new things to try – until reality hit me on the head and I realised that I didn’t have nearly enough money, time, or energy to do half the things on that list. This is my problem with bucket lists: more often than not, they focus on the failure of the things that I haven’t done and often leave me with a sense of anxiety for the future.

Instead of sharing with you a list of the things that I haven’t done, I’ll share with you a list of the things that I have accomplished in the last year or so. Welcome to my un-bucket list:

  1. Quit drinking soda-I challenged myself to quit soda right before I started fasting for Ramadhan last year.  I’ve been drinking water and very occasionally, fruit juice. These days, I won’t drink soda even if it comes free with a meal.  My clothes fit better and my skin feels more hydrated.
  2. Turned my wardrobe into a ‘joy’ only zone-I went through an intense purging period where I got rid of clothes that didn’t fit well, didn’t look good on me, or that I just flat-out didn’t like. I read about Marie Kondo‘s philosophy on surrounding yourself with only things that ‘spark’ joy, and I have slowly started cutting out the joyless stuff out of my life. Which brings me to….
  3. Picked my battles-This is another big un-bucket item. I try very hard to allocate my time and focus on people that fill my life with beauty and laughter, and really, really try to stay away from anything that will make me angry or sad. There are always the inevitable sad/angry situations of course, but I intentionally keep these to a necessary minimum. When confronted with a conflict, I tend to ask myself “will this matter in 5 years time?” and proceed accordingly.
  4. Explored my city-Remember how I mentioned that bucket lists often involve significant chunks of money, time, and energy? This specifically relates to travel. As a working mother with two active toddlers,  I have little of those three resources to spare. I haven’t been travelling to many new countries, but I have been a very busy local tourist.  I make a point of visiting a local attraction at least once every week. London has many fantastic free attractions like museums, parks, gardens, and events. I pack a lunch and snacks for the road, load up the kids in the stroller, and off we go to explore the city. It’s so much fun!
  5. Started a library-This is probably the biggest un-bucket item on my list. Since childhood, I’ve always enjoyed reading immensely (I talked about it in this blog post). One of my dreams was to start a library in the coastal region of Kenya, where literacy rates are so low compared to the rest of the country. In late 2014, this dream came true. The library started out with a collection of a few donated books and now has grown so big that we are running out of space! You can read more about the library here.

How about you? What’s in your un-bucket list?

T is for happiness

Anyone who knows me knows that my love for tea know no bounds- my blog title is pretty much a dead give away for my obsession. It was therefore only natural that, during a quick run to the local shopping mall, a bright, big storefront with pretty boxes of tea caught my attention. Instead of walking straight ahead to the drugstore, I walked right into the open arms of T2.
A pretty sales lady with perfect red lipstick and cat eyeliner beckoned me in. “Would you like to taste some of our most popular teas?,” she asks with a cheerful smile. “Yes, sure,” I respond enthusiastically eying the beautiful pitchers of ice tea so colorful, you’d think they were painted. The ‘Green Detox’ was good, the ‘Strawberry+Turkish Apple’ was amazing. This was the kind of ice tea that would be perfect for a summer afternoon spent surrounded by the people you love.
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There were display tables scattered around and on them were the most interesting teapots and teacups; rarely do I come across drinking vessels that make me feel so excited. Big, bold colors, intricate arabesque designs, Chinese motifs, traditional English scenaries: the tea sets looked spectacular.
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At the edges of the tables were small tins holding an assortment of loose teas.
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And to my absolute delight, there were also beautiful books casually arranged between teacups. Now that’s my idea of a perfect day: book in one hand, teacup in another.
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If there was a (commercial) heaven on earth, T2 would be it.
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(pictures taken at the T2 in Shepherd’s Bush Westfields, London)