Shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize
This exciting and deeply moving debut novel follows the tumultuous life of Nazneen from her birth in a Bangladeshi village hut, to her arranged marriage to Chanu and the subsequent move to London's Tower Hamlets.
Nazneen's inauspicious entry to the world, an apparent stillbirth on the hard mud floor of a Bangladeshi village hut, imbues in her a sense of fatalism that she carries across continents when she is married off to Chanu. Her life in London's Tower Hamlets is, on the surface, calm. For years, keeping house and rearing children, she does what is expected of her. Yet Nazneen walks a tightrope stretched between her daughters' embarrassment and her husband's resentments. Chanu calls his elder daughter the little memsahib. 'I didn't ask to be born here,' say Shahana, with regular finality.
Into that fragile peace walks Karim. He sets questions before her, of longing and belonging; he sparks in her a turmoil that reflects the community's own; he opens her eyes and directs her gaze -- but what she sees, in the end, comes as a surprise to them both.
While Nazneen journeys along her path of self-realization, a way haunted by her mother's ghost, her sister Hasina, back in Bangladesh, 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 ultimately not bound -- by their landscapes and memories, both sisters struggle to dream themselves out of the rules prescribed for them.
Beautifully rendered and, by turns, both comic and deeply moving, Brick Lane establishes Monica Ali as one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.
©2003 Monica Ali (P)2004 W F Howes Ltd
"Warm, shrewd, startling and hugely readable: the sort of book you race through greedily, dreading the last page." (The Observer)
"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." (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)
Funny, wise, human
Nasneen's last conversation with Chanu
Meera Syal was brilliant at conveying character, and has a lovely voice to listen to in straight-forward narration.
Would have if I could have...
Just loved it, and didn't even mind getting stuck in traffic when listening to this story. I also got a lot of ironing done - my usual activity when listening to an audiobook. Monica Ali has a brilliant turn of phrase, a wonderful comic touch and all the characters are beautifully drawn.
The struggles of two sisters, one remains in Bangladesh and one is brought to England in an arranged marriage. They've been brought up to accept their fate but find that when fate is cruel they must cut their own path to find what little comfort and happiness they can in the face of those who would take advantage of them.
I probably wouldn't listen to this repeatedly. It's got a very wistful narrative, meandering between memory and the present action, and I found it easier to listen to rather than read. Meera Syal was fantastic.
My favourite character is that of Nazneen; observing her journey and her dawning sense of self is quite beautiful.
I loved the humour and the accents Meera Syal brought to her reading. It gave an appropriate extra level to the understanding of the characters and their backgrounds.
I found this book very disappointing. When I read the synopsis I thought it'd be interesting to read something different to my usual choices,but now I wish I had not wasted a credit on such a boring book.
I wouldn't recommend such a boring book to any of my friends.
If it had not been for Meera Syal's narration I don't think that I would have finished the book,although I hate not finishing a book.I thought she made the characters believable despite such a boring story.
Boredom,which was disappointing because the story could have been interesting.
I would be very wary of buying another book written by Monica Ali even if it was a prize winner.
Brick Lane tells the present-day story of two Bangladeshi sisters. Nasreen is married to the older civil servant Chanu, who takes her back to London's Tower Hamlet into a life of narrow and monoglot domesticity. Hasina remains in Bangladesh and appears to make all the wrong choices in a society in which women's opportunities are curtailed on all sides. She makes a love marriage and runs away from home. She works in a garment factory, experiences violence and prostitution, finds another respectable job as a nanny with a local affluent businessman, but never gives up her dream of a better life (with a better man). Nasreen, too, sees passion intrude into her dull and safe marriage to a man who struggles with his own limitations. Will she eventually decide to return to Bangladesh with her husband or choose to stay in London with their two teenage daughters?
These parallel story lines are set against the background of Dhaka and Tower Hamlets, in communities whose characters are delineated economically and beautifully. At the core of the book is not so much romance but self-fulfilment, choice, opportunity, particularly for women whether they are living in rural or urban Asian Muslim communities or as first-generation immigrants in the so-called multicultural West. How do their opportunities compare? How do they meet the crises in their lives, and how do they make their big decisions? This is not to say that the male characters' lives are any easier: in their jobs and on the estates they live they daily encounter racial and religious prejudice; young men resort to drugs and don't live up to their parents' expectations. How does Tower Hamlet's Bangladeshi community meet the prejudice levelled at them in the aftermath of 9/11? It's a thought-provoking and engaging book with memorable characters.
Meera Syal's reading is very good indeed: she offers a distinct voice for each character; the narrative voice might have done with a slightly more lively touch.
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