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 marvellous and the terrifying spiral together.

In Brick Lane, Nazneen is walking through life. She’s not allowed to experience much. I mean, let’s be honest–her future has been decided for her. Her father has married her off to a man significantly older than her. This man, Chanu, staying true to culture, is the breadwinner. He expects Nazneen to remain at home, to be calm (even passive) and content in her position. He doesn’t approve of her socializing too much outside of the home or even her need to adjust to their home by learning the English language.

She doesn’t argue. She agrees. She accepts.  She has been taught from birth not to fight, but to accept fate. She is the good daughter.

Her sister, Hasina, is the ‘bad daughter’. She ran away from home to join in a  ‘love marriage’ and was disowned. She ran away from her husband to escape the beatings and ill-treatment. Due to women being treated as second-class citizens, Hasina spends most of her time running.

Ali writes simply but effectively, showing the lives of Bengali women. They are second-class citizens. They lack the power to change their fate…or so they believe. It’s terrifying. It’s inspiring.

This book is a true coming of age story from 1967 to October 2001. Ali spins a wonderful story of discovering self-worth while becoming acclimated to an unfamiliar way of life. Nazneen’s awakening, in the midst of 9/11, is a triumph as she has spent her whole life being seen but not heard. It’s more than an ‘erotic awakening’. It’s the lesson that her words matter, her thoughts matter. She matters.

While I enjoyed this book, the ending was a disappointment. It wrapped quickly, leaving nothing to the imagination. I was also annoyed by the letters from Hasina to Nazneen which were written in some weird broken English/Bengali mix, distracting from the actual story.

Lit Snit Verdict: B+

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