The basics: Brick Lane, Monica Ali's debut novel, is the story of Nazneen, a young woman born in Bangladesh who moves to London as part of an arranged marriage when she's eighteen.
My thoughts: I've been meaning to read Brick Lane for many, many years, and I'm so glad I finally did. I've long been fascinated by arranged marriage, and while it's easy to dismiss it as an appalling practice, Ali presents a fascinating and nuanced view of it here. Brick Lane is very much a coming of age story, even as Nazneen's coming of age happens later in life than the traditional western time. She is undeniably naive when she arrives in London, yet she carefully takes in information and experiences, those shared with her husband, other Bangladeshi immigrants, and on her own, Through these experiences, subtle shifts appear. As time move forward, sometimes quickly, Nazneen comes into her own in some unexpected ways.
Admittedly, I'm drawn to both novels about other cultures and those about young women coming into their own, and Brick Lane provides both themes. There's an authenticity swimming through this novel that I found remarkable. Ali captures a multi-sensory experience as she shares Nazneen's story.
Favorite passage: "For Nazneen, the baby's life was more real to her than her own. His life was full of needs: actual and urgent needs, which she could supply. What was her own life, by contrast, but a series of gnawings, ill-defined and impossible to satisfy?"
The verdict: Brick Lane is a beautifully written novel. Both Bangladesh and London come alive in Ali's hands. Naznee's window into her world provides the reader with a fascinating insight into immigrant London, Bangladesh customs, and Nazneen herself.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 432 pages
Publication date: August 19, 2003
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