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Brick lane : a novel by Monica Ali

Brick lane : a novel (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Monica Ali

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Title:Brick lane : a novel
Authors:Monica Ali
Info:New York : Scribner, 2003.
Collections:Your library

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Brick Lane by Monica Ali (2003)

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English (107)  French (3)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  All (112)
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this book, but it took me ages to finish. I read it in snippets — on the bus for five minutes here, on the tram for ten minutes there, waiting for rice to boil or toast to pop up, surreptitiously during boring lectures — because while I liked it, it didn’t have enough of a *pull* — except near the end — to make me keep reading when I could be doing other things.

Brick Lane is the story of Nazneen, a young woman who moves to London from Bangladesh to live with the husband her father has arranged for her. I have a soft place in my heart for all well-written “multicultural” and “immigrant experience” literature, and this novel fits that category well. I enjoyed how the characters developed over time. The writing is excellent, the characters are complex and realistic, and the relationships and conversations between them genuine. I especially liked how Ali showed the complicated love between a husband and wife who have never actually been in love with each other but have spent decades together: Chanu’s face — as I remember, “loose with gravity, tense with worry” — hovering above Nazneen’s as she screams in a nightmare. The correspondence between Nazneen and her sister in Bangladesh was important, but I don’t think it was presented well. The longest stretch of time was shown through a series of what felt like half a dozen letters from Hasina, one after another, and it grew tiresome. I also didn’t understand why Ali chose to write Hasina’s letters, which were presumably in Bengali, in broken English, while her sister’s letters were fully grammatical. Not only did it not make sense, it also made the narrative less engaging (especially when the letters went on for pages).


Some memorable quotes. I didn’t mark my favorite lines as I read, so these are only the ones I remembered well enough to find again.

“It was a strange thing, and it took her some time to realize it. When he spoke in Bengali he stammered. In English, he found his voice and it gave him no trouble. [...]
“‘My husband had a mobile phone,‘ she told him. ‘But he gave it up. Said it was too expensive.’
“‘Y-y-your husband is right.’
“She switched to English. ‘Very useful thing.’
“‘Y-y-yes, but t-t-too expensive.’
“She saw at once that she had drawn attention to the very thing she had thought to hide. He would not speak English now. He would not disown himself.” (pp. 210–11)

“He was the first man to see her naked. It made her sick with shame. It made her sick with desire.” (p. 299)

“Chanu said, ‘Do you know the problem with these boys?’
“‘Not enough studying,’ said Bibi smartly.
“‘Too much roaming around,’ said Shahana. ‘Like goats.’“
“‘Don’t try to be clever.’” (p. 388)
  csoki637 | Nov 27, 2016 |
This Man Booker prize nominee went on just a bit too long for me -- my interest petered out about 70 pages before the end of the book. I did like the way the book ended though so it was worth persevering. ( )
  leslie.98 | Apr 11, 2016 |
Nazneen is a young woman living with her family in Bangladesh and dreaming of her future. Soon she’s shipped to England where she’s married off to an older man. Her life becomes so small, confined almost entirely to their apartment. Her husband is gross and selfish and treats her like an employee. I understand it’s an arranged marriage, but it’s an awful situation. There’s no physical abuse, just a continual wearing down of her spirit. Her casual acceptance of her situation is heartbreaking and it was hard for me to identify with her.

When she finally has an affair you honestly don’t even care about the man she is sleeping with, it’s more about the fact that she’s finally done one tiny thing for herself. Even then it seems to make her more miserable than before. She also has two daughters who grow up in England and have a hard time embracing their parents’ culture. They are children of England, not Bangladesh and that divide makes it difficult for them to understand their mother’s decision to stay in a loveless marriage.

Part of the book consists of letters back and forth between Nazneen and her sister. Hasina ran away from home and married for love, but her life was not a happy one. I think the main purpose of that plot was to show Nazneen that things could always be worse, but at least Hasina chose her own life.

I felt like we are waiting for something to happen for the entire book and then nothing does. It’s this uphill slog that you think will end with an incredible view, but when you reach the top there’s nothing to see. She never goes to see her sister, she never gets caught in the affair, etc. She just decides to stay at home when her husband leaves. That was good in its own way, but there was no real resolution.

The fact that I couldn’t identify with the main character wasn’t a deal breaker for me in anyway. I love learning about different cultures. I love seeing the struggle that comes from immigrating to a new country and trying to understand their customs. The problem was that Nazneen didn’t seem interested in anything. I felt like I couldn’t root for her when she couldn’t even root for herself.

BOTTOM LINE: Geez I struggled with this one. It’s such a slow moving novel. I felt like I was living through those years of stifling boredom with Nazneen, and not in the good way. There is some beautiful writing, but for me it wasn’t enough to balance out the slog through the story. ( )
  bookworm12 | Jan 6, 2015 |
Received this from a friend
  JosieRivers | Dec 28, 2014 |
I'm normally a sucker for multi-culti, feminist, South Asian diaspora novels, but for some reason it took me a long time to get around to this one. It turned out to be a nice quick read, pushing all the appropriate postcolonial buttons, but without being too predictable. Ali clearly likes to give her characters plenty of time to develop, which is good, but does mean that when we are first introduced to them they tend to come across as rather crude stereotypes. Worthwhile, but not exactly life-changing. ( )
  thorold | Nov 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this book, but it took me ages to finish. I read it in snippets — on the bus for five minutes here, on the tram for ten minutes there, waiting for rice to boil or toast to pop up, surreptitiously during boring lectures — because while I liked it, it didn’t have enough of a *pull* — except near the end — to make me keep reading when I could be doing other things.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Monica Aliprimary authorall editionscalculated
Watanabe, KyokoDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Sternly, remorselessly, fate guides each of us; only at the beginning, when we're absorbed in details, in all sorts of nonsense, in ourselves, are we unaware of its harsh hand.' - Ivan Turgenev
'A man's character is his fate.' - Heraclitus
For Abba, with love
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An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen's life began - began as it would proceed for quite some time, that is to say uncertainly - her mother Rupban felt an iron fist squeeze her belly.
Chanu stopped and looked in a shop window.'Seventy five pounds for that little bag. You couldn't fit even one book into it.'
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743243315, Paperback)

Wildly embraced by critics, readers, and contest judges (who put it on the short-list for the 2003 Man Booker Prize), Brick Lane is indeed a rare find: a book that lives up to its hype. Monica Ali's debut novel chronicles the life of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl so sickly at birth that the midwife at first declares her stillborn. At 18 her parents arrange a marriage to Chanu, a Bengali immigrant living in England. Although Chanu--who's twice Nazneen's age--turns out to be a foolish blowhard who "had a face like a frog," Nazneen accepts her fate, which seems to be the main life lesson taught by the women in her family. "If God wanted us to ask questions," her mother tells her, "he would have made us men." Over the next decade-and-a-half Nazneen grows into a strong, confident woman who doesn't defy fate so much as bend it to her will. The great delight to be had in Brick Lane lies with Ali's characters, from Chanu the kindly fool to Mrs. Islam the elderly loan shark to Karim the political rabblerouser, all living in a hothouse of Bengali immigrants. Brick Lane combines the wide scope of a social novel about the struggles of Islamic immigrants in pre- and post-9/11 England with the intimate story of Nazneen, one of the more memorable heroines to come along in a long time. If Dickens or Trollope were loosed upon contemporary London, this is exactly the sort of novel they would cook up. --Claire Dederer

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:08 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Nanzeen, married off to an older man, moves from her Bangladeshi village to live with him in London in the 1980s and 1990s, where she raises a family, learns to love her husband, and comes to a realization that she has a voice in her own life.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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