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14 March 2014

Brick Lane
Monica Ali
Transworld Publishers Ltd
First Published
For all of you who are not familiar with it - Brick Lane is an area / a road in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is in the centre of London, but considered a very poor area. The district is characterised by many high-rise tower blocks and known for its immigrant population, lately mainly of Bangladeshi / South Indian descent. As a non-Asian person, I suppose I always feel slightly out of place there. Brick Lane itself is a road which has a lovely market by day-time and numerous Indian / Bangladeshi restaurants in the evening. In fact, some might say if you want authentic Indian food in London, you would have to go down to Brick Lane. I have visited there several times, but has now been several years since my last visit. 

But back to the book. Brick Lane was Monica Ali's debut novel. 

Nazneen is born in a small village in Bangladesh in 1967 when the country was still called East Pakistan in 1967. Aged 18, she has an arranged marriage and moves to London, Tower Hamlets. 


Soon after, when her father asked if she would like to see a photograph of the man she would be marry the following month, Nazneen shook her head and replied:, "Abba, it is good that you have chased my husband. I hope I can be a good wife, like Amma." But as she turned to go she noticed, without meaning to, where her father put the photograph. 
She just happened to see it. These things happen. She carried the image around in her mind as she walked beneath the bayans with her cousins. The man she would marry was old. At least forty years old. He had a face like a frog. They would marry and he would take her back to England with him.

Nazneen only speaks 2 words of English when she arrives and is not unhappy, but just desperately lonely, missing her beloved sister and baffled by this strange country. Chanu, her husband, is a stranger to her and appears pretty much useless and pathetic and his work as a clerk does not make him happy nor is it very financially rewarding. Despite him living in England, he wishes to have a traditional lifestyle so he won't allow Nazneen to venture out nor to work and she is less or more stuck in heir tiny flat. Over the years, a variety of characters will come into both their lives and will change it forever for both of them: Razia, a female friend of Nazneen's who is not considered respectable by her husband; Mrs Islam who is considered a respectable woman but is in fact, anything but and will turn to fleece Nazneen and Chanu for their money; and eventually Karim - a young and passionate young man who will change Nazneens life forever as she will begin an affair with him. And than there are Nazneen and Chanu's daughters who will, in his view, become to westernised. 

The story of Nazneen, Chanu and their children is intertwined with letters which Nazneen receives from her sister in Bangladesh, telling us about her personal struggles and the situation in the country. 

I loved the book as I'm very family with South Asian culture and there were so many things where I thought 'Oh yes, that sounds familiar!'. I had to laugh at Chanu's attempts to study with The Open University (a home study University here in the UK) which never came to anything and he gave up like so many things in his life - I did the very same Open University course at the time (hey, I did finish mine!!) The book tells of the struggles many immigrants have to face and also shows the development further down the line - what is happening to the children of those immigrants who are now growing up with traditional parents in the 'free Western world'. But the story is also one of hope that you can make it - though not everyone. 

Anything I didn't like?I thought the cover was a bit boring.