Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Summer stroll down the lane...

 Brick Lane is a first novel for Ali - and an excellent one at that.  Ordinarily, I am kinda squeemish about novels that center around the theme of unfaithfulness.  I have a hard time feeling sympathetic for the cheaters, but Ali plays the game a little differently here, and my heart goes out to Nazneen, who is a complex and lovable character who shows real growth from her early days as a naive young bride to a mature mother of two teenaged girls.
      At 18, an arranged marriage to a man twenty years her elder takes Nazneen from her rural village in Bengladesh to an apartment in the poorer end of London.  She struggles to makes sense of her new life and to do her duty to her husband and to raise her family (a son who dies in infancy and then two daughters).  As she submits and accepts her fate, she meets a young radical named Karim, who turns her world upside down.  Ali does an excellent job of depicting the agitation/excitement of Nazneen's relationship with Karim, as well as her compassion/devotion to her husband Chanu.  Ultimately, she realizes how alike the two men are.
The backdrop of racial and religious upheaval and world events reminds the reader of how current and relevant this story is today.  Nazneen is an unforgetable heroine and I look forward to reading more of Monica Ali.  Her other books include Alentejo Blue, In the Kitchen and Untold Story (an "imagine if" book that imagines what Princess Di's life might have been like if she hadn't died in that accident; this book got quite a bit of press around Will and Kate's wedding)

Here's an excellent review that captures Brick Lane just right.  And there's a movie version too.

When I finished reading this book, a gift from my younger sister, I took a minute to check out the reviews online and was not surprised to discover that women either love it (the friendship; the nostalgia; the tear-jerk loveliness) or hate it (the cliches; the sappiness; the utter one-dimensional predictability of the characters who never grow up) with nothing in between.
      The story follows two unlikely friends, Tully and Kate, through 40 years of friendship to the soundtrack of the 70's, 80's and 90's.  The two friends follow very different paths in life, but always need each other.

I think my big(est?) problem with this book is the portrayal of Kate who decides to "just" stay home and raise her daughter.  Although the author professes to "legitimizing" the role of stay-at-home mom, I have never read a more unrealistic or unflattering portrayal of what it is that stay at home moms do.  Maybe it's just me, but the constant chauffering, unappreciated meals, unwashed hair, chronic exhaustion, borderline depression, "rescue" trips to spas/writing classes/therapists/shoppping, and constant battles with her children turned me right off.  Have I been tired? sure.  Felt underappreciated? sure. Skipped a shower? sure. Been frustrated by a child?  sure  But do I really want to read 200 pages of moaning about it?  No way...  Thankfully, my life is nothing like high-flying millionaire Tully, but it's nothing like stay-at home Kate either.

Definitely a beach read... many women who loved this book compared it to Beaches.  If you love Beaches, you may love this too.

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