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A captivating read from a debut novelist, Brick Lane brings the immigrant milieu of East London to vibrant life. With great poignancy, Ali illuminates a foreign world; her well-developed characters pull readers along on a deeply psychological, almost spiritual journey. Through the eyes of two Bangladeshi sisters -- the plain Nazneen and the prettier Hasina -- we see the divergent paths of the contemporary descendants of an ancient culture. Hasina elopes to a "love marriage," and young Nazneen, in an arranged marriage, is pledged to a much older man living in London.
Ali's skillful narrative focuses on Nazneen's stifling life with her ineffectual husband, who keeps her imprisoned in a city housing project filled with immigrants in varying degrees of assimilation. But Ali reveals a bittersweet tension between the "two kinds of love" Nazneen and her sister experience -- that which begins full and overflowing, only to slowly dissipate, and another which emerges like a surprise, growing unexpectedly over years of faithful commitment. Both of these loves have their own pitfalls: Hasina's passionate romance crumbles into domestic violence, and Nazneen's marriage never quite reaches a state of wedded bliss.
Though comparisons have drawn between Ali and Zadie Smith, a better comparison might be made between this talented newcomer and the work of Amy Tan, who so deftly portrays the immigrant experience with empathy and joy.
(Fall 2003 Selection)
Ali’s sharp-witted tale explores the immigrant’s dilemma of belonging. Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman, moves to London’s Bangla Town (around the street of the title) in the mid-nineteen-eighties after an arranged marriage with an older man. Seen through Nazneen’s eyes, England is at first utterly baffling, but over the seventeen years of the narrative (which takes us into the post-September 11th era), she gradually finds her way, bringing up two daughters and eventually starting an all-female tailoring business. Meanwhile, the more outwardly assertive characters -- her comically pompous husband, her rebellious sister back in Bangladesh, and a young Muslim activist with whom Nazneen has an affair -- lose their bearings in their various attempts to embrace or reject their heritage. In Ali’s subtle narration, Nazneen’s mixture of traditionalism and adaptability, of acceptance and restlessness, emerges as a quiet strength.
Britain’s brightest young literary stars range from…
Zadie Smith, whose debut novel White Teeth sold one
million copies, and Monica Ali, who has yet to see her
work in print.
Already one of the most significant British novelists
of her generation.
Ali describes in quite an intricate way how a Muslim
housewife might think and behave and what her aspirations
might be. Brick Lane is a brilliant book about
things that matter.Ian Jack
Brick Lane effortlessly dissolves the gendered false barrier between the social-political and domestic novel, often without ranging far from Nazneen's cluttered flat and the pangs of her increasingly adventurous mind.
Admittedly, a first novel lets the writer learn her trade, and a reader shouldn't use it to hazard much in the way of prediction. Writers are prone to false starts and slumps, and some of them always run the same race, incapable of changing stride. It usually takes two or three books to establish their form -- and yet Monica Ali already has a sense of technical assurance and an inborn generosity that cannot be learned. Brick Lane inspires confidence about the career that is to come.
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. (Sept.) Forecast: Ali, who was the only unpublished writer on the Granta Best of Young British Novelists 2003 list, should attract considerable attention as she embarks on a five-city author tour in the U.S. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Most coming-of-age novels focus on an adolescent learning about life and love for the first time. Ali's debut shows that a 34-year-old mother of two can discover the joys and pains of growing up as well as any youngster. From the moment of her birth in Bangladesh, Nazneen has let fate determine her life-fate presented her with an arranged marriage to a ne'er-do-well, two battling daughters, and a run-down apartment in a London public housing project. Slowly, she wakes up to the world beyond her flat, first acquiring a job, then a lover, and finally her own voice. The reader, too, wakes up to a world where women are still at the mercy of men through culture, economics, religion, and complicity. Ali has the distinction of being selected as one of Britain's best young novelists by Granta magazine before her novel was even published; the judges chose well. Hers is a refreshing glimpse into the everyday lives of families seeking balance between tradition and the demands of the wider world. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Everyday life requires courage. That simple truth is the foundation of this fine debut about a young Bangladeshi woman in London, struggling to make sense of home, family, Islam, and even adultery. You’re only 18 when an arranged marriage whisks you off to a faraway land whose language you can’t understand. Your husband is middle-aged and ugly as sin. What for Westerners would be a fate worse than death is for Ali’s heroine Nazneen fate, period. A devout Moslem, she has inherited her mother’s stoic acceptance of God’s will, even heeding her husband Chanu’s advice not to leave their apartment in the grim projects on her own; people would talk. Chanu is happy to have acquired "an unspoilt girl. From the village." He’s a gentle but insufferably verbose man, a low-level bureaucrat. He’s also a born loser, and Ali’s masterly portrayal mixes mordant humor with a full measure of pathos. The excitement here comes in watching Nazneen’s new identity flower on this stony soil. Motherhood is the first agent of change. Her firstborn dies in infancy, but her daughters Shahana and Bibi thrive. A power shift occurs when Shahana rebels against her father, an ineffectual martinet; Nazneen the peacemaker holds the family together. When Chanu falls into the clutches of the moneylender Mrs. Islam (a sinister figure straight out of Dickens), Nazneen becomes a breadwinner, doing piecework at home and thus meeting the middleman Kazim, who is also an activist fighting racism. They become lovers; and again Nazneen sees herself as submitting to fate. But when Chanu, increasingly beleaguered, announces their imminent return to Bangladesh, Nazneen asserts herself. On one day of wrenching suspense, she dealsforcefully with Mrs. Islam, Kazim, and Chanu, and emerges as a strong, decisive, modern woman. The transformation is thrilling. Newcomer Ali was born in Bangladesh and raised in England, where Brick Lane has been acclaimed, and rightly so: she is one of those dangerous writers who sees everything. Agent: Nicole Aragi
Los Angeles Times At once sophisticated and innocent, compassionate and entertaining.
Anne Tyler I was bowled over by Monica Ali's Brick Lane.
The New Republic Splendid....Daring....Brilliant....Refreshing....Brick Lane is a great achievement of the subtlest storytelling.
The Boston Globe Brick Lane is as crisp and urgent as a headline....But the true pleasure of this wonderful novel comes from its timeless sense of wonder and affection for the haplessness of human nature.
Chicago Star Tribune Beautiful and intensely readable.