Thursday, September 8, 2011
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)