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Brick Lane: A Novel [Paperback]

Monica Ali
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 2 2004
"A book you won’t be able to put down. A Bangladeshi immigrant in London is torn between the kind, tedious older husband with whom she has an arranged marriage (and children) and the fiery political activist she lusts after. A novel that’s multi-continental, richly detailed and elegantly crafted." –Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Sisterland

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.

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From Amazon

With its gritty Tower Hamlets setting, this sharply observed contemporary novel about the life of an Asian immigrant girl deals cogently with issues of love, cultural difference and the human spirit. The pre-publicity hype about Brick Lane was precisely the kind to set alarm bells ringing (we've heard it so often before), but, for once, the excitement is fully justified: Monica Ali's debut novel demonstrates that there is a new voice in modern fiction to be reckoned with.

Nazneen is a teenager forced into an arranged marriage with a man considerably older than her--a man whose expectations of life are so low that misery seems to stretch ahead for her. Fearfully leaving the sultry oppression of her Bangladeshi village, Nazneen finds herself cloistered in a small flat in a high-rise block in the East End of London. Because she speaks no English, she is obliged to depend totally on her husband. But it becomes apparent that, of the two, she is the real survivor: more able to deal with the ways of the world, and a better judge of the vagaries of human behaviour. She makes friends with another Asian girl, Razia, who is the conduit to her understanding of the unsettling ways of her new homeland.

This is a novel of genuine insight, with the kind of characterisation that reminds the reader at every turn just what the novel form is capable of. Every character (Nazneen, her disappointed husband and her resourceful friend Razia) is drawn with the complexity that can really only be found in the novel these days. In some ways, the reader is given the same all-encompassing experience as in a Dickens novel: humour and tragedy rub shoulders in a narrative that inexorably grips the reader. Whether or not Monica Ali can follow up this achievement is a question for the future; it's enough to say right now that Brick Lane is an essential read for anyone interested in current British fiction. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazucen'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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story March 11 2005
Brick Lane is an amazing story of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi female immigrant who moved to a Bangladesh community in London as a young woman and wife of an old man. Through her, the author successfully captured the Bengali traditions and the clash their contradictions upon the Islamic religion. The misconceptions Bengalis and many other Islamic people have vis-à-vis their religion and culture incompatibilities is vividly portrayed in this book. Hindu practices, traditions and culture are intertwined with Islam to give it a different blend. Nazreen gets married to Chanu through an arranged marriage where she had no choice, thereby cementing her destiny as a housewife. But then the reader soon finds that docile and obedient Nazreen's resigned life is interrupted now and then by her rebellious thoughts, a rebellious side that is unveiled when the path of the attractive radical named Karim crosses he path. This fast paced novel is rich in plot and has a fascinating setting. I highly recommend it along with THE USURPER AND OTHER STORIES.
Also recommended: Disciples of Fortune, The Union Moujik, Kaffir Boy
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3.0 out of 5 stars Seemed good, but sections are atrocious July 1 2004
The main story, told from the perspective of a Bangladeshi immigrant in London, is wonderfully written. Unfortunately, the other big thread of the narrative is told through the letters of her sister back in Bangladesh, who is supposedly uneducated; and to convey this, the author unwisely chose to have these "letters" written in a horrible, unreadable broken English (it felt almost along the lines of "me tarzan, you jane" at times). These sections were so unreadable, in fact, that I was unable to finish this book. A pity... the London bits are truly beautiful prose, but averaged out to a 3 due to the awful broken English letters.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brick Lane March 8 2007
Although this book was a bit hard to get into, it was worth the effort. There were a lot of names and explanations in the beginning that were a bit hard to get around, but needed to make the story as powerful as it was at the end. It is an empowering book for all women that are locked into `traditions' of all cultures. It made you think about what `you' want to do, not so much as to what you should be doing, and the effects it has on all members of the family, including you and the people around you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dignity, caring, and hope July 1 2005
Monica Ali gives dignity to her characters in the stellar novel "Brick Lane," something that a lot of author might not do in and with the particular situations presented here. The fmailial struggles transcend national boundries and traditions and that is what makes this a universal story. Of the three books our book club recently read, this was our favorite, the others being "The Known World," and McCrae's "The Children's Corner." While all were excellent, "Brick" was our favorite. I'm not normally one for English and/or Indian-themed novels, but this one works for me. It will for you too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Details July 26 2004
By A Customer
The details in this book are simply incredible. And I'm not talking about the descriptive details, but the minor characters and back stories. The minor characters are fascinating and suggestive. In Bangladesh, there is Makku Pagla, always reading and carrying an umbrella who kills himself by falling down a well. There is Tamizuddin Mizra Haque the quiet barber who always knows the correct information about every thing. In London, there is Mrs. Islam, the money lender with her two sons, Number One and Number Two, as enforcers. There is Razia, Nazneen's closest friend whose husband dies when seventeen frozen cows fall on him in the slaughterhouse where he works. Extremely unusual without being "over the top" this is a fascinating novel. Would also recommend a novel by the title THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Seeking Love That is True July 18 2004
Wars occur. Deaths bring misery to families. Time moves on and the world changes. Amidst all this, love still occurs, no matter its fashion.
In Brick Lane, author Monica Ali presents the story of two Indian sisters as they seek love. Hasina elopes in a love marriage and seems to fall into love naturally while Nanzeen moves to London as part of an arranged marriage and waits for love to grow in her union. Throughout this modern-day love story, September 11 happens and the war on terrorism begins. What could be a story focused on the state of Indians during our current political climate, in fact becomes a tale of love. What is it and how does one find it?
Ali introduces, as a backdrop to her story, an accepted definition of love by Indian elders. "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."
Brick Lane starts out seemingly as propaganda for the merits of arranged marriages. Nanzeen marries Chanu, a much older, unattractive man who is pompous and long-winded. However, Chanu provides for her and treats her kindly. Nanzeen first views her husband in disgust as she grooms him and his home. Eventually though, she finds comfort in the stability in her life and wonder if what she feels for him is love.
Hasina flees her home in Bangladesh to marry her love, writing to her sister that, "We have love. Love is happiness. I feel to run and jump like goat." That love soon fizzles, however, and Hasina flees that home and finds herself on the go for many years.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Has interesting points....but overall..boring!
I found it really hard to get into this book. It had its interesting points but overall, found it very boring. Read more
Published on April 1 2009 by Kiran Gill
1.0 out of 5 stars oh billlly
What an incredibly boring piece. Found it abandoned on a plane. Now I know why. The story consists of ramblings without an end. Read more
Published on Dec 27 2007 by Barbara Girouard
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable
The core of this book revolves around the themes of submission, immigration and integration. It's the story of Nazneen, a quiet young girl whose life changes when the arranged... Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2007 by I LOVE BOOKS
3.0 out of 5 stars Brick Lane
I have read almost half the book, enjoyed it in the beginning and was hoping there would be some change in story, no change but I kept on reading until I came to the part where she... Read more
Published on May 17 2006
4.0 out of 5 stars Seeking Love That is True
Wars occur. Deaths bring misery to families. Time moves on and the world changes. Amidst all this, love still occurs, no matter its fashion. Read more
Published on July 18 2004 by CincinnatiPOV
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensual, descriptive, brilliant
Monica Ali has a tremendous talent for creating characters who exemplify the doubts & struggles we all face in life. Read more
Published on July 13 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to Finish
I have a problem with abandoning a book before finishing it because I can't give up the hope that there may be something worthwhile at the end. Read more
Published on July 12 2004 by SunnyD
2.0 out of 5 stars letdown....
i was expecting a novel which was going to be unique since it was nominated for so many awards but was disappointed. The novel drags on and there is no definite path it takes... Read more
Published on July 12 2004 by "mrsawant"
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