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The Newlyweds Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

After I finished the book, I was still unsure whether [Freudenberger] had managed to communicate anything at all. . . . Everything, it seems, needs documenting, but instead of using detail to enrich the complicated circumstances of her characters or insinuate symbolic relevance, the accumulation of detail ends up polluting the tone with a sort of faux wonder and naivete, an imagined otherness that allows Freudenberger to revel in her every banal observation. —Jessica Joffe

Review

“The beauty of The Newlyweds rests in its apparent simplicity. In clear, unfussy prose, this is the story of a marriage between two people who believe they can carve their own fate. Amina, a thoughtful Muslim woman, had always dreamed of escaping the deprivations of her life in Bangladesh. George, an engineer, was keen to settle down, yet he lacked any aptitude for the games of Western wooing. After an epistolary courtship via a dating website, the two get married and begin a life of slow mutual discovery. Within this straightforward arc lurk larger ideas: about love, destiny, choices, and the immigrant experience. Freudenberger’s gifts as a writer are in spinning yarns that are engrossing and wise, with just enough suspense to build momentum. . . . She explores here the sharp contrasts and amusing discoveries of a world glimpsed through foreign eyes [and] with a light touch, conveys the gamble of choosing one’s destiny.”  —The Economist 
 
“Beautiful . . . Strong.  [This is] the story of a 24-year-old from Bangladesh who moves to Rochester, NY, to marry a man she met online for love. She’s never left her home country, and only met her fiancé once—but to those around her, the fact that the marriage is unarranged is the oddest part. The story follows her assimilation into American culture, and her struggles with establishing her new home, culturally, religiously, psychologically and even sexually. The commentary on women in modern society, as well as their place overseas, will jolt you into thinking about gender roles, and the constant tension in discussions about marriage, both arranged and for love, is provocative. Most importantly, Freudenberger’s narrative is also a discovery for her main character, Amina, of her own strength. Turns out that the process of writing The Newlyweds was one of evolution for the author, a busy mother and strong woman herself.” —Meredith Turits, Glamour

“Surprising . . . riveting. [The Newlyweds] succeeds based on Freudenberger’s uncanny ability to feel her way inside Amina’s skin as she takes courageous, self-sacrificing steps toward realizing her dream. Caught between two worlds, Amina begins to know herself and to understand the inevitable limits of her choices. . . . For all its global sophistication, the most remarkable accomplishment of this hugely satisfying novel is Freudenberger’s subtle exploration of the stage of adulthood at the heart of The Newlyweds, and all the compromises with selfhood those early years of love and marriage entail.” —Jane Ciabattari, Los Angeles Times

“The union at the heart of Freudenberger’s gentle new novel is not of the Cupid’s arrow bliss the title evokes. George and Amina’s marriage, though not lacking in affection, is more of a leap of faith than most. . . . The Newlyweds is about all sorts of complex relationships: between parents and children; with first loves; with the places we depart and those we adopt, and ‘the many selves’ this fluidity creates. Freudenberger does an especially lovely job creating Amina’s worlds—her emotional terrain, her wonder and bewilderment adjusting to America, her life in Bangladesh.”  —Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi, The Seattle Times

“A merging of lives, a collision of cultures—these themes are at the heart of Freudenberger’s fine second novel . . . Amina Mazid ‘meets’ George Stillman on a dating website. He’s 10 years older, looking to get married and start a family. She dreams of a better life in America. After nearly a year of corresponding online, George travels to Amina’s home village to meet her family, and they become engaged. Yet both hide secrets that will complicate their relationship. By the following spring, they’re living together in Rochester. Several aspects of Amina’s new life prove puzzling: American megastores, such as WalMart and Bed, Bath and Beyond, overwhelm her. In conversation, she doesn’t understand the concept of sarcasm. And she has no idea what a snooze button is. Yet Freudenberger doesn’t simply trace cultural misunderstandings on an amusing or superficial level. She delves into more serious issues between Amina and George. . . .The Newlyweds crosses continents, cultures and generations. . . . It’s funny, gracefully written and full of loneliness and yearning. It’s also a candid, recognizable story about love—the real-life kind, which is often hard and sustained by hope, kindness, and pure effort.” —Carmela Ciuraru, USA Today 
 
“A lonely man in upstate New York decides that American women don’t suit him, so he takes to the Internet. Half a world away in Bangladesh, a determined young woman posts an ad on a matchmaking site for Western men and Asian women. They’re George and Amina, the newlyweds in the second novel from Freudenberger, decorated by The New Yorker and Granta as a promising young fictionnaire. You may think you know how this story goes, but as they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. As Amina cautiously shapes a life in her new country of Starbucks and suburbs, she and her spouse stubbornly resist settling into cliché. Freudenberger’s central couple are more than well-crafted characters; they shimmer with believability and self-contradicting nuance. . . . As the tale traces their tumultuous first years together, George and Amina’s union is revealed as hardly standard, but at once idiosyncratic and universal. . . . Fluid and utterly confident.” —Allison Williams, Time Out New York (four stars)
 
“A true triumph . . . Freudenberger’s most successful book yet. The Newlyweds’ s appealing protagonist, Amina, is a young, slender Bengali (e)mail order bride who grew up in and around Dhaka. The novel follows her to Rochester, NY, where she meets her fiancé George, learns the meaning of words like ‘dumbstruck’ and how to shovel snow, and gets a job at a sales clerk at a store called MediaWorks. Where Freudenberger excels is in her understanding of familial love and the comical side of learning to live in a foreign land . . . Amina is unpretentious, a character who shares a common language with the reader. Her perceptions of her new life are inflected by her unfamiliarity with America, and those of her past in Dhaka are brought to life in an angry vividness. Freudenberger’s masterful prose makes comprehensible how someone can become a stranger in two places at once.” —Michael Woodsmall, New York Observer

“Captivating . . . Freudenberger’s latest novel explores the unexpected consequences when two distinct cultures collide. . . . This engaging story, with its page after page of effortless prose, ultimately offers up a deeper narrative of the protagonist’s yearning.” —S. Kirk Walsh, The Boston Globe 
 
“After Amina Mazid of Bangladesh meets George Stillman of Rochester, NY, on a dating site, she leaves everything that is familiar and travels across the world to become his wife. Freudenberger shows us Amina in all her complexity: ambitious, devoted, intelligent, ambivalent and, when alone with George, sexually curious . . . Amina and George keep secrets from each other that threaten their fragile bond, and the author takes her time letting them unfold. The relationship between reader and writer is always something of an arranged marriage, in the sense that the reader enters a stranger’s sensibility, hoping for the best. Amina and George may have a complicated connection, but Newlyweds is an unambiguous success.” —Meg Wolitzer, More Magazine

“Evocative . . . From the time she broke into The New Yorker at age 26 with her first-ever published short story, Freudenberger has been regarded as a heavyweight literary phenom. . . . The latest feather in [her] cap is The Newlyweds. It’s really, really good. As always, [she] is fascinated by culture clash, here encapsulated in the marriage of a young woman from Bangladesh and an American engineer from Rochester, New York, who’s 10 years her senior. This is not a love match. Lonely George wants a family; Amina recognizes that her aging parents’ security depends on her making a good marriage, particularly since her father is something of a Bengali Willy Loman. . . . [But] The Newlyweds is so much more than a ‘lost-in-translation’ romp: There are soulful depths to the sociology. Both Amina and George had been in love with other people before they resorted to international computer dating and the novel, which roams in a twisting, lavish storyline between America and Bangladesh, explores the strong and sometimes disastrous pull of those earlier attachments. The Newlyweds also tackles the promise of America and the payment—practical and psychic—it demands of immigrants. . . . [A] luscious and intelligent novel that will stick with you. . . . Freudenberger keep[s] the wonderfulness coming.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“Freudenberger returns to the theme of cultural identity through the story of a 24-year-old Bangladeshi who leaves her native country and religious circle to marry an American whom she met online. Settling in Rochester, New York, Amina’s happiness is elusive. . . . When [she] makes her first visit back home, she finds her relatives critical of her. It forces Amina to think about how being part of a close-knit group can be oppressive—and leads readers to consider the conflict between the weight of family obligations and individual desires. Through Amina, Freudenberger explores how technology and the global economy have changed marriage and religion, and raises questions about the limi...

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307268846
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268846
  • ASIN: 0307268845
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #802,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

107 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Liat2768 TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The story, from the small blurb on my reader's edition, initially seems an intriguing one. An inter-racial, inter-national, inter-religious couple falls in love on-line and, once married, sorts out what marriage is all about. However, characterizing this book as a" richly observed story of love and marriage" seems to me to be a gross misrepresentation. This is not a book about marriage; it is a book about one particular, marriage which is mostly a side note to the story of a determined woman's desire to bring herself and her parents to live in the 'First World'. Love for each other plays a very small part in the actions of the two partners.

I found the first quarter of the book to be the weakest due to a very evident lack of research. The author's non Bangla background comes through very strongly in the depiction of the main character's motivations, speech, familial expectations, etc. which sound completely American. I felt that the author did not really get into the head of her Bangladeshi heroine who, supposedly, was still close to her roots in the village. Cross cultural differences (beyond just speaking English mildly differently) are not explored and the dialogue among the Bangladeshi family could belong to an American drawing room. Amina's parents' support for her plan to find a husband online (so that all of them can emigrate to the US), their willingness to send her overseas with a man they have only met for a week and the fact that a fiancée visa to the US was arranged within a week was mindboggling.

Amina's arrival in the US is a casual event. It is as if she just moved from one state to another - or switched from Europe to the US. Yes small differences pop up but for the most part it is smooth sailing.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By asiana VINE VOICE on March 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dhaka, Bangladesh is home to Amina Mazid until she starts an on-line relationship with George Stillman, who lives in Rochester, New York. Although each has something hidden in their pasts, Amina, with the blessing of her parents, moves to what she thinks will bring her a happier life than what she's experiencing in Dhaka.

The novel is interesting in showing how the cultural differences between the young couple invite both laughter and anger, but I cannot imagine Bangladeshi parents encouraging their only child to emigrate and marry a non-Muslim man about whom she knows very little.

There are many characters in this book, but none of them became "real" to me, including Amina and George and the storyline was akin to a poor TV soap opera. The winding alleyways, the crowded shops, the smells of the Bangladeshi markets never became alive nor did the small city ways of Rochester. It is an OK novel, but nothing special.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By bert1761 VINE VOICE on April 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was very enthusiastic about "The Newlyweds" as I began reading it. Nell Freudenberger can certainly turn a phrase and make you stop and think... and frequently laugh. Also, the initial chapters about the development of the relationship between Amina and George and her acclimation to the US and their acclimation to each other started out as interesting.

But something happened along the way and these to characters -- as well as the huge host of supporting characters -- seemed to become increasingly less compelling and less believable. Moreover, the plot line revolving around Amina's father introduced into the second half of the book seemed unnecessary and reduced the act of reading to a slog, which is ironic as I believe much of this part of the story was intended to be suspenseful.

At the end of the book, I didn't really care how any of the storylines resolved themselves or about any of the characters; I was mostly just glad to be finished. And given the strong start to the book, this result was particularly disappointing.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jane VINE VOICE on June 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I received this book through the Amazon Vine program. I had decided to request it primarily because I had read that it is set in Rochester, New York. I live in Rochester.

While the character of Amina is fairly well developed -- you understand her motivations and desires -- but you still get the feeling that she is not quite real. In some ways, her husband's cousin Kim seems more real than Amina. The husband, George, is just a sketch. The dialogue seems lifeless. There is only one place in the entire novel where the exchange between George and Amina seemed to have some blood and some life. (spoiler ahead). Amina and George have been married in the US but they have not been married in a mosque or the International Center as they had planned. It has just been allowed to slide. Amina is working on a plan to bring her parents to Rochester but it will be eight months until they can get their Visas and make the journey. Amina decides that she and George will be married at the International Center when her parents arrive so that they can be there and witness it. Until then, she tells George that she will no longer sleep with him. (There are other reasons for her deciding on this defacto separation but revealing them would give away too much of the story). George is reluctantly willing to comply but at one point he protests the arrangement, "For God's sake, we're married." Amina responds "Your God. Not mine."

Reading "The Newlyweds", I recalled another novel with a similar theme: Com Toibin's "Brooklyn." In this novel a young woman travels from Ireland to Brooklyn, not to marry but to find work. There are many similarities in the themes but "Brooklyn" is a far better novel. Read that one instead of this one.
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