Brick Lane
Monica Ali
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Brick Lane
Monica Ali
428 pages
March 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In Brick Lane, author Monica Ali examines the life of Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman, through the powerful lens of her microscope as the young woman settles in a London enclave filled with other Bengali tenants, all seeking assimilation while maintaining their cultural identity.

Taking the path of least resistance, Nazneen dutifully accepts marriage to the much older Chanu, moving from her home in Bangladesh to London. Once settled in their London flat, Nazneen spends her days as an obedient wife, her homesickness brightened by letters from home written by her sister, Hasina, who has flouted tradition and married for love. Over the years, Hasina shares her adventures with Nazneen, bridging the distance between them while emphasizing the contrasts of their worlds. Given the unique perspective of their letters, Ali is able to compare their lives, the minutiae of Nazneenís days defining her role.

Life in London is governed by strict Bengali traditions. In public, eyes are watching and tongues wagging with gossip as the women shun those who become Westernized. Still, there is a profound cultural disturbance beneath the placid surface of the Bengalis' world. Making a living is difficult at best, and most heads of household are forced to take demeaning jobs, regardless of their education. There is a growing unrest among the young people, some of whom embrace their new lifestyle and others who are outraged by the pervasive denial of Islamic tradition.

Nazneen is vigilant and patient, wedded to her fate, while her husband pontificates for hours to his captive audience. As their two daughters grow into young women, the oldest displays the temperament so evident in Western teenagers, becoming a constant source of irritation to Chanu, who will not tolerate disrespect from his daughter. Disappointed by diminishing job prospects and the lack of opportunity, Chanu finally accepts employment working nights as a taxi driver. He borrows money to purchase a sewing machine for Nazneen so that she can do piecework for a local manufacturer.

In this capacity, Nazneen meets Karim, a young man with revolutionary dreams who yearns to direct the local Muslim population away from secularization and back to strict religious traditions. Karim challenges Nazneen in a way that causes her to redefine her personal priorities and unquestioning acceptance of fateís directives. For the first time, through his eyes, Nazneen views herself, not as mother and wife, but as a woman.

With subtle precision, Ali portrays an array of eccentric characters, from kind-hearted friends to hawkish moneylenders who bleed their customers of cash and pedantic old men who long for the country of their birth. While the Bengalis trudge through daily difficulties, dreaming of home, most gradually accept their Westernization, if unwittingly. At the center of it all, Nazneen struggles to find her voice, to become a woman of two worlds.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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