Modern Firsts Monica Ali Brick Lane

ISBN 13: 9780385604840

Brick Lane

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9780385604840: Brick Lane

Nazneen's inauspicious entry to the world, an apparent stillbirth on the hard mud floor of a Bangladeshi village hut, imbues in her a sense of fatalism that she carries across continents when she is married off to Chanu. Her life in London's Tower Hamlets is, on the surface, calm. For years, keeping house and rearing children, she does what is expected of her. Yet Nazneen walks a tightrope stretched between her daughters' embarrassment and her husband's resentments. Chanu calls his elder daughter the little memsahib. 'I didn't ask to be born here,' says Shahana, with regular finality. Into that fragile peace walks Karim. He sets questions before her, of longing and belonging; he sparks in her a turmoil that reflects the community's own; he opens her eyes and directs her gaze - but what she sees, in the end, comes as a surprise to them both. While Nazneen journeys along her path of self-realization, a way haunted by her mother's ghost, her sister Hasina, back in Bangladesh, rushes headlong at her life, first making a 'love marriage', then fleeing her violent husband. Woven through the novel, Hasina's letters from Dhaka recount a world of overwhelming adversity.

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Review:

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

About the Author:

Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She is one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists of the decade, Newcomer of the Year at the 2004 British Book Awards and has been nominated for most of the major literary prizes in Britain. BRICK LANE was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the George Orwell Prize for political writing and the prestigious Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Internationally there has been similar recognition including, in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times 'First Fiction' Prize where the book was shortlisted. Monica Ali lives in London with her husband and two children.

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