Synopses & Reviews
"A book you won’t be able to put down. A Bangladeshi immigrant in London is torn between the kind, tedious older husband with whom she has an arranged marriage (and children) and the fiery political activist she lusts after. A novel that’s multi-continental, richly detailed and elegantly crafted." –Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Sisterland
After an arranged marriage to Chanu, a man twenty years older, Nazneen is taken to London, leaving her home and heart in the Bangladeshi village where she was born. Her new world is full of mysteries. How can she cross the road without being hit by a car (an operation akin to dodging raindrops in the monsoon)? What is the secret of her bullying neighbor Mrs. Islam? What is a Hell's Angel? And how must she comfort the naïve and disillusioned Chanu? ?
As a good Muslim girl, Nazneen struggles to not question why things happen. She submits, as she must, to Fate and devotes herself to her husband and daughters. Yet to her amazement, she begins an affair with a handsome young radical, and her erotic awakening throws her old certainties into chaos.
Monica Ali's splendid novel is about journeys both external and internal, where the marvellous and the terrifying spiral together.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Brick Lane is a brilliant book about things that matter." Ian Jack, Granta
"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)
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
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?