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Brick Lane: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, May 25, 2004

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Editorial Reviews 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 --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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (May 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552775169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552775168
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (208 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,037,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She has been named by Granta as one of the twenty best young British novelists. She is the author of the novel Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is now a major motion picture, and Alentejo Blue, a story collection. She lives in London with her husband and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Eileen on December 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Monica Ali's "Brick Lane" is an excellent debut novel that captures the struggles, the cultural clash, and the frustrations of a family caught between two worlds.
From the day of her birth, Nazneen is reminded how she is a puppet of fate. She dutifully leaves her small Bangladeshi village and goes to live in Brick Lane, the Bengali enclave of London, after her arranged marriage to Chanu, an educated but pompous and ineffectual man twice her age. She acts as a traditional, dutiful, and useful wife. After accepting whatever cards fate deals her, however, she casts a critical eye at the actions of her friends, her sister and her mother. She questions whether she can actually control her life. She starts to break free, first with small subtle acts of rebellion and then an affair. Finally, with the interests of her children in mind, she takes a giant step toward becoming her own woman. Interspersed throughout the story line are letters to Nazneen from her sister Hasina, who strikes out on her own in Bangladesh and, through good times and bad, forges a life of her own.
The writing style is colorful and descriptive. The reader can smell the spices wafting through the hallways, view the multicultural clutter of a shabby and overcrowded apartment, and share the confusion and outrage that simmer in Brick Lane due to cultural, religious, and racial prejudice. Each character is carefully crafted and brought to life. Ali peels back the surface layers of Chanu to reveal his inner doubts and disallusionment. The secondary characters such as the starchy Dr. Azad, the crafty hypochondriac Mrs. Islam, and the Britishized Razia, are depicted with a deft touch. There are only two points in the novel that could be improved upon.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am a devoted fan of Indian novelists, those particularly observant writers who miss no detail while creating intensely personal landscapes of time and place. In Brick Lane, author Ali examines the life of Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi wife. The young woman settles in a London enclave filled with other Bengali tenants, all seeking assimilation while maintaining their cultural identity. Surrounded by familiar objects and customs, the immigrant community is constantly assailed by the inevitability of Westernization.
Following custom, Nazneen dutifully accepts marriage to the much older Chanu. Nazneen is an obedient wife, settled now in her London flat, her homesickness brightened by letters from Hasina, Nazneen's sister, who flaunts tradition by marrying for love. Over the years, the differences in their worlds are apparent, as the letters they exchange reflect their diverse paths. Through their letters, Nazneen examines her days as mother and wife, governed by minutiae, while Hasina is often at the mercy of changing circumstances.
Bengali lives are governed by strict traditions. While eyes watch and tongues wag with gossip, most of the women shun Westernization. Still, there is a profound cultural disturbance beneath the surface of the Bengali's world. It is nearly impossible to make a decent living; most are forced to work demeaning jobs to support their households, regardless of education and among the young people, there is a growing unrest. Some embrace the new lifestyle, while others are outraged by the implicit denial of Islamic tradition.
Nazneen is patient, wedded to her fate, but the couple's two daughters are a constant irritation to Chanu, especially the oldest, who exhibits the usual teenage angst.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
This lengthy and ambitious first novel explores, with indifferent success, the lives of Bangladeshi immigrants to London and the growth in independence and modification of culture of a young Bangladeshi woman.

The heroine of the book is Nazneen who at the age of 20 enters an arranged marriage with Chanu, age 40, a Banladeshi struggling to establish himself in London. Chanu is striving for a promotion, is proud of his attempts to secure education, and is portrayed at the outset of the book as rather vain and foolish. Bangladeshi society and traditional Islamic practices are patriarchal by western lights, and much is made of this throughout the book. Nanzeen and Chanu have a son, who dies as an infant, and two daughters Shahana and Bibi. Mid-way in the book, with her growth in independence and awareness of her physical and emotional needs, Nanzeen takes a lover, a young man and would-be Islamic radical named Karim. Nanzeen has a beautiful younger sister, Hasina, who remains in Bangladesh, and writes many letters to her sister in a broken English about the course of her life and its hardships.

The book gives a portrait of life of the Bangladeshi immigrant community in London. I had no prior knowledge of this community. It describes how the immigrants lived in cramped living conditions in the poorer sections of town with up to ten people per room trying to support themselves in a culture utterly foreign to most of them. Some of the people work at assimilation while others try to retain their religious and Bangladeshi identity. Drugs and violence come to plague the community and, of course, the open sexual mores of modern London prove irresistable to many.
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