Synopses & Reviews
Monica Ali's gorgeous first novel is the deeply moving story of one woman, Nazneen, born in a Bangladeshi village and transported to London at age eighteen to enter into an arranged marriage. Already hailed by the London Observer
as "one of the most significant British novelists of her generation," Ali has written a stunningly accomplished debut about one outsider's quest to find her voice.
What could not be changed must be borne. And since nothing could be changed, everything had to be borne. This principle ruled her life. It was mantra, fettle, and challenge.
Nazneen's inauspicious entry into the world, an apparent stillbirth on the hard mud floor of a village hut, imbues in her a sense of fatalism that she carries across continents when she is married off to Chanu, a man old enough to be her father. Nazneen moves to London and, for years, keeps house, cares for her husband, and bears children, just as a girl from the village is supposed to do. But gradually she is transformed by her experience, and begins to question whether fate controls her or whether she has a hand in her own destiny.
Motherhood is a catalyst -- Nazneen's daughters chafe against their father's traditions and pride -- and to her own amazement, Nazneen falls in love with a young man in the community. She discovers both the complexity that comes with free choice and the depth of her attachment to her husband, her daughters, and her new world.
While Nazneen journeys along her path of self-realization, her sister, Hasina, rushes headlong at her life, first making a "love marriage," then fleeing her violent husband. Woven through the novel, Hasina's letters from Dhaka recount a world of overwhelming adversity. Shaped, yet not bound, by their landscapes and memories, both sisters struggle to dream -- and live -- beyond the rules prescribed for them.
Vivid, profoundly humane, and beautifully rendered, Brick Lane captures a world at once unimaginable and achingly familiar. And it establishes Monica Ali as a thrilling new voice in fiction. As Kirkus Reviews said, "She is one of those dangerous writers who see everything."
"Already one of the most significant British novelists of her generation." The Observer (London)
"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
"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." Evening Standard
"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." The Sunday Times
"Brick Lane is a brilliant book about things that matter." Ian Jack, Granta
"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.)" Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly
"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)
A stunningly accomplished debut and already an international sensation--the story of one outsider's quest to find her voice. What could not be changed must be borne. And since nothing could be changed, everything had to be borne. This principle ruled her life. It was mantra, fettle, and challenge.
About the Author
MONICA ALI has been named by Granta as one of the twenty best young British novelists. She is the author of In the Kitchen, Alentejo Blue, and Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She lives in London with her husband and two children.
Reading Group Guide
The Observer (London) Warm, shrewd, startling and hugely readable: the sort of book you race through greedily, dreading the last page.Amy Hempel author of Tumble Home and Reasons to Live 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.Evening Standard (London) The joy of this book is its marriage of a wonderful writer with a fresh, rich and hidden world...written with love and compassion for every struggling character in its pages."The Sunday Times (London) 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.
Reading Group Guide for Brick Lane
- 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?