In the beginning of Monica Ali's novel, Brick Lane, we follow the protagonist Nazneen from her rural Bangladeshi village to London where she has gone from teenager to married woman. How does Nazneen cope with the transition? In what small ways does she rebel against her fate?
In his glowing review of Brick Lane in The New Republic James Woods says that Brick Lane "inhabits a fictional realm in which prayer, free will, and adultery all have their 19th century weight." Another reviewer compares her writing to Thomas Hardy's. How would you compare Nazneen's experience to that of Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary or Tess in Tess of the D'Urbervilles or any other 19th century heroine who strays?
Chapter 2 presents Dr. Azad, the enigmatic doctor who becomes Chanu's unlikely friend. Nazneen is often bewildered by their friendship; what is the tie that binds this odd couple?
When Nazneen sees the ice skaters on television, she is immediately captivated. This image is recalled several times throughout the novel, at the end of the book Nazneen is at an ice-skating rink, about to skim the ice for the first time. What does the ice skating symbolize?
Nazneen's friend, Razia, thinks marrying for love is romantic but when it comes to her own daughter she says, "Shefali will make a love marriage over my dead body." Why do you think arranged marriages are valued above love marriages? Discuss the advantages of both using examples from the book?
Fate is a significant theme in the novel. What role does Fate play in Nazneen's life? Discuss the ideological struggle between Fate and self-determination.
In Chapter Three, Mrs. Islam tells a story about female empowerment. She says, "If you think you are powerless, then you are." How has Mrs. Islam's choosen to live her life? Is she powerful? Empowered? Describe Nazneen's process of self-empowerment? How does faith relate to female empowerment?
Shahana wears jeans and has a certain independence that Nazneen cannot help but admire. In Chapter 6 Nazneen tries on a pair of Chanu's pants, and asks herself, "where's the harm?" Discuss Nazneen's relationship with Shahana? Do you think Nazneen lives vicariously through her outspoken daughter? Why does Nazneen allow Shahana to kick her?
As a Muslim woman, relatively confined to her household quarters, Nazneen has limited contact with men. What is the nature of her relationship with her husband Chanu? With Karim?
Considering Nazneen and Karim's faith, how do you account for their relationship? How do you explain their attraction to each other? What compels them to continue their dangerous liaisons? Why do you think Nazneen decides to end it?
Discuss the culture clash between the Bangladeshi's and the English, Muslims and Christians, men and women and between the generations.
Chanu is a curious character of high-hopes and endless projects that inevitably fizzle. In spite of his education and ambition, why is Chanu unable to rise above his struggling status? Is the racist system of England set against him? Or is he merely more a man of talk rather than action?
Razia, a queen of gossip, knows all the intimate details of the community dwellers. Why is she unable to see the signs of drug usage with her son Tariq? Why doesn't Nazneen tell her friend what she suspects?
How do you think life would have been for the family had Nazneen decided to return to Bangladesh with Chanu? Do you think Chanu will eventually return to London?
This is the first book I have read about the Bangladeshi community in London and I loved it. Nazneen may be a woman from a village in Bangladesh married to an older educated man, a city man who lives in London, but she adjusts well. The book spins a tale around Nazneen, her family both in London and in Dhaka and how she deals with situations and people in London. Not only is the tale fascinating and informative, it is philosophical too. For example when Nazneen fantasizes about wearing Western Clothes and feels that "for a glorious moment it was clothes, not fate, made her life." Chanu on the other hand is always posing Philosophical questions like, "Is this true? It's a question I like very much. A student of philosophy must inquire all the time." Even the casual conversations between the women can sometimes be very philosophical like when Hanufa and Razia are shooting the breeze about their children. "He does not want to live the life I made for him." "But that is our problem - making lives for our children. They want to make them for themselves. "Yes. They will do that. Even if it kills them." All in all a very well-written book. It is not surprising that it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
CorreLola, March 27, 2008 (view all comments by CorreLola)
Brick Lane tells the parallel stories of two sisters: one in London, the other back home in Bangladesh. The story unfolds over the course of 20 or so years, ending right after the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001. The story alternates between the daily life of Nazneen and letters written by her sister Hasina. Ali's writing is wonderful: funny, sharp and deeply moving; and explores the power of personal choice (particularly for women) and the sometimes suffocating disillusion of immigrant life. A terrific read.
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brook Kelly, December 23, 2007 (view all comments by brook Kelly)
The book is really well written, however that doesn't account for the storyline. I've been reading for sometime that a lot of Bangadeshi people were unhappy with the book because it made them out to be ignora... amongst other things. After reading the book I can see exactly where they are coming from. Honestly, I find the letters between the main character and her sister Hasina to be rather pointless to the development of the story. And a lot of the story could have been shortened by at least a hundred pages. There is a lot of usel3ss information in the book, that could have been thrown towards other character developments and storylines. The gist of the story and what it's really all about, whirls at you rather quickly in the last fifty pages if so much. That's almost three hundred and fifty pages that were rather pointless and could have been snarked into two hundred or less at the most. I'd recommend reading Tino Georgiou's bestselling novel--The Fates--if you haven't yet!
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Scribner Book Company -
A phenomenally original novel that entwines Bangladeshi traditional beginnings with a gradual transformation into modern, multicultural life in contemporary London. Ali's narrator, Nazneen, holds all of her experiences close at hand and maintains a connection to both worlds considering fate and observation as her beacons. Expect to hear more from this potent and fresh literary voice.
"Review A Day"
"British critics have called her the next Zadie Smith, presumably because they're both young, nonwhite females who blasted onto the literary scene with Booker-nominated bestsellers about immigrant culture in London. But Ali displays none of Smith's pyrotechnics or her sprawling scope and scale. Biology aside, a better comparison would be with Anita Brookner, that non-young, blisteringly white matron of British fiction whose quiet incisive novels scrutinize the plight of lonely people.
The genius of Brick Lane lies in Ali's ability to make the peculiar universal while making what's familiar comically odd. Though it's a distinctly interior novel, the larger world resonates all along the edges with discordant strains of political and cultural disruption." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
by The Sunday Times,
"A humanely forgiving story about love....Brick Lane may be Ali's first novel, but it is written with a wisdom and skill that few authors attain in a lifetime."
by Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly,
"Like Zadie Smith's White Teeth, Ali's debut novel is set in multicultural London; but unlike Smith's antic, sprawling vision, Ali's is cool, confined, and unsparing. Meticulously following the circumscribed life of Nazneen, a sheltered, devoutly Muslim, married Bangladeshi garment worker, the novel depicts her experience through her own constricted and, to the reader, alien point of view. (Ali practices the self-effacement of the supremely confident writer as she subordinates her style to her protagonist's perspective.)"
by Evening Standard,
"The joy of this book is its marriage of wonderful writer with a fresh, rich and hidden world...written with love and compassion for every struggling character in its pages."
by The Observer (London),
"Already one of the most significant British novelists of her generation."
"Monica Ali's power as a storyteller, her wisdom and compassionate stance, make this remarkable novel a total-immersion experience. I was quickly taken over by the community, culture and vision she presents so forcefully."Amy Hempel, author of Tumble Home
by Ian Jack, Granta,
"Brick Lane is a brilliant book about things that matter."
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