Brick Lane : a novel

by Monica Ali

Paper Book, 2004




New York : Scibner, 2004.


"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 marvelous and the terrifying spiral together.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jeniwren
Brick Lane by Monica Ali

At the tender age of eighteen, Nazneen's life is turned upside
down. After an arranged marriage to a man twenty years her elder she exchanges her Bangladeshi village for a block of flat's in London's east end. She rebels to her situation and the restrictions put upon her by
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sneaking out in the daytime to defy her husband. Aside from her struggles throughout the story she receives letters from her sister back in India who is in a dire situation with an abusive husband whom she eventually leaves with her lover and is forced to
live on the streets. Nazneen however has problems of her own and begins an affair with a young radical who brings sewing to her at home whilst her husband is at work.Nazneens husband is basically a good man but is frustrated about never achieving any status in his
new country and eventually returns to India without Nazneen at the close of the novel.
This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. I
enjoyed the story taking me into a life and culture so far removed from my own .
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LibraryThing member tsutsik
A well told story of the fate of a Bangladeshi import bride in London who came as a young girl to Engeland in 1985, and whose fate is followed until 2002. The mirror of the letters of her sister - who stayed in bangla desh- is a rather clever device. The story is well told, but the book isn't
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really memorable; characters are mostly too flat, merely pawns in a story Ali wants to tell, showpieces for information Ali has gathered about how these kind of women are supposed to live (she must have done wonderful research),and problems they encounter. Only husband Chanu I liked very much, he has some depth, but he seems a bit out of place in this novel. He would fit in rather nicely in the early work of VS naipaul (A house for mr Biswas). Ali describes a story, rather than let the figures live it on their own. To end on a positive note: I think Ali as a writer shows promise, and hope to see better books of her; in some ways (especially in the depth of characters) her second book 'Alentejo Blue' which I did read a few months before this was already much better.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
Remarkably good. Just when you thought that writers had wrung the last material out complicated-yet-somehow-tedious intercontinental, post-imperial emigration stories, you pick up something like "Brick Lane" and get reminded how vast and rich the space between cultures really is, and the
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near-heroic things that humans are capable of doing in order to reach across it. "Brick Lane" to its unending credit, seems to have been briefed on this sort of narrative's own clichés and doesn't hesitate to challenge them. Chamu, the educated-stupid patriarch of the family described here, can recite the traps and complexities of the emigrant's dilemma, but it doesn't help him one bit. In fact, many of this novel's characters, including the young, idealistic Karim, aren't shy about articulating the cultural pathologies that make their lives difficult, but, in the final analysis, "Brick Lane" is superbly written novel about doing, not speaking or writing. It's no coincidence, I think, that it's an English-language novel whose main character doesn't learn English until its last hundred pages or so. The author seems much more interested in the nuts-and-bolts of Nazneen's survival than any commentaries that might be made about it. Being set, variously, in the slums and sweatshops of Dhaka a rough-and-tumble London council estate, the novel presents a picture of cultural assimilation and at-all-costs survival at ground zero.

Which isn't to say that it's not a joy to read. Nazneen's memories of her Bangladeshi village are as cool and soothing as a wet cloth, and her descriptions of her new British neighbors are insightful and funny. In Chamu, insufferable, unseeing, hypocritical, and too proud, Ali's got something of a world-class villain, if she didn't take her time to make it clear to the reader that he's much more lost, confused and -- at times -- sympathetic than he would like to seem. The ill-fitting love that grows between Chamu and Nazneen toward the end of the novel might rank as one of the twenty-first centuries most realistic, and most painful, romances. Ali's writing is both spry and marvelously complex throughout, and, while its action takes place in settings that are tightly constrained by poverty and stifling tradition, it also feels wonderfully open and ambitious. The book addresses money and class and religion and contemporary politics fearlessly, and the author never seems to miss a step. Most importantly, perhaps, its characters are utterly indelible. Ali's descriptions of Chamu's pretensions at being open-minded, Nazneen's courage and her self-doubt, and both her daughters' willingness to please and their anger are as expertly described as the family's sociological predicaments, and, to be honest, much more difficult for a writer to portray effectively. Yet Ali doesn't seem to break a sweat. This one is absolutely marvelous, a novel that whose grand thematic arcs are executed flawlessly and whose tiny interactions rings true. In the author's hands, these unremarkable, if hard-fought lives, take on an epic significance, and their stories take on tremendous emotional resonance. Even if you think that you're done with this sort of book, this one is well worth your time. Just terrific.
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LibraryThing member miyurose
If I were in a different frame of mind, I probably would have finished this. I liked the first half, where it was primarily about Nanzeen, but then... I completely lost interest once it became about politics.
LibraryThing member Greatrakes
I found Brick Lane an engaging and absorbing read. Monica Ali has had so many plaudits I thought she may disappoint, but she didn't.

The book gave me a window on a world normally invisible to me, the world of the non-English speaking, home bound, first generation immigrant, wife.

Although the novel
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interested me for its description of an alien world, it is really about Nazneen's journey from fatalism (and the story of "How I Was Left to my Fate") to assertion, and the way in which this encapsulates the generational journey, from the world of her mother, a world of victimhood, despair and suicide, to the world of her daughter who would run away rather than be returned to Bangladesh.

Her affair interested me, I thought it was a subtle take on an age old story, Nazneen seems to fall into it with her usual passivity, and seems to be being used, and yet she gets what she wants from it and, in the end, it leaves him shocked and her unmoved.

Monica Ali is able to produce humour as well as tragedy and pathos - everything is beautifully written. I loved the Bengal Tigers. This group of wannabe radicals descend into the farcical bickering so typical of all the student politics I remember. All the debates end up in wrangles over what has been authorised by the publications committee or whether DJ Kushi and MC Marak will be allowed to hijack the next demo and turn it into a disco.

The characters in the book are skillfully drawn Chanu, Mrs Islam, Dr Azad, and Mrs Azad are my favourites - Ali's neat, brief descriptions of character fill the book - a favourite:

"...he was slighted... ...he worked hard for respect, but could not find it. There was in the world a great shortage of respect and Chanu was amongst the famished."

I'm looking forward to reading Monica Ali's next book
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LibraryThing member booksofcolor
It's a few years old now and there has been a film (that I have not seen). I believe there was some controversy around the film but I don't remember exactly why - I think Germaine greer was annoyed by it. I liked the book - it's not the greatest work of literature ever, but it is interesting and
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slightly confronting on issues of race, religion, gender, terrorism and the migrant experience.
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LibraryThing member lilywren
The book centre’s around Nazneen, an 18 year old Bangladeshi village girl thrust into council estate living in London after an arranged marriage to 40 year old Chanu. Ali follows Nazneens’ development from confused, bewildered and displaced young woman into an even more confused and displaced
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wife and mother.

I found Brick Lane to be a book of 2 halves. The first half took me about 2 weeks to read, it was hard going, at times boring and I can understand why some people gave up on it early. Fortunately, the second half took me a few days to read and was far more interesting. It is a slow moving book and I imagine it is meant to be so. A kind of documentary of one womans’ transformation from girl to woman whilst seeking to find a place in a Western world she is far removed from.

On the whole, I enjoyed Brick Lane. It passed a good few days for me and was worth the read, if not the hype. Having said this I found myself uninvolved and having very little empathy for characters I felt I should have. I found them often one-dimensional despite their lives full of woes and sadness. I found very little affection, warmth and love in the telling of the story. Maybe this was meant to be so.

We see only brief glimpses of warmth in her thoughts of home and in the letters her sister wrote (and yes, I agree with some criticisms that the broken English the letters were written in were distracting). Her husband and children seemed to merely tolerate her. Her lover, Karim, also seems to merely tolerate her and, like their ‘secret’ meetings, the relationship is kept under wraps.

I found that Nazneen had very little to say throughout the book until she developed later on. I noticed that in the first half her dialogue could be penned in one page and everyone around her spoke AT her, rather than with her. She appeared to me as a soundboard for everyone else’s thoughts. She kept all things to herself, secrets, lies and worries. This was even more noticeable in the letters Hasina wrote to her and the ones she wrote back, or tired to write. Hasina often wrote long and interesting letters to her sister and showed a great deal of insight into what was happening around her and a self awareness whereas Nazneens’ letters would barely scratch a paragraph.

As the book moved forward Nazneen become more vocal and I feel was an intentional part of Ali’s writing to show the development of her character. That said, I felt that other characters had more to offer and drew me in more. Nazneens’ eldest daughter Shahana, her friend Razia and Dr Azad’s wife who made all but a brief appearance, all seemed more real to me. Karim seemed almost dreamlike, lacking substance and their relationship just didn’t gel for me.

One thing I feel that is created rather well in Brick Lane, is the environment within which Nazneen lived. The description of her home, the council estate, plaster coming off the walls, the groups congregating around dog crap strewn streets, the desperation and lack of hope amongst some, all conjured images that were described so well by Ali. She contrasts these with glimpses of the poverty that Hasina was living amongst in Bangladesh. Yet somehow there seemed more hope there and Hasina, no matter what she had gone through, always seemed a little more hopeful and happier than her sister, possibly illustrating how poverty is relative and often spiritual poverty can, in a way, be more damning than monetary poverty. It was this and the sidelined characters that seemed more tangible and interesting to me.

But perhaps that is as it is. Nazneen feeling unhappy, unloved, used, disenfranchised, displaced and, to a degree, invisible. Ali certainly does leave me with this impression of the central character in this book and this I believe is one thing to be recognised and applauded.
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LibraryThing member missesK
Wildly embraced by critics, readers, and contest judges (who put it on the short-list for the 2003 Man Booker Prize), Brick Lane is indeed a rare find: a book that lives up to its hype. Monica Ali's debut novel chronicles the life of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl so sickly at birth that the midwife
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at first declares her stillborn. At 18 her parents arrange a marriage to Chanu, a Bengali immigrant living in England. Although Chanu--who's twice Nazneen's age--turns out to be a foolish blowhard who 'had a face like a frog,' Nazneen accepts her fate, which seems to be the main life lesson taught by the women in her family.
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LibraryThing member barbaretta
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003, this is the story of Nazneen, from her birth in a village in Bangladesh, to her physical settlement in London's East End for an arranged marriage, to her emotional settlement as a (relatively) independent woman, the mother of daughters who are, despite
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their family environment, inevitably going to grow up more English in their ways than Bangladeshi. It is a fine novel, providing rich, colourful insights into the culture of a first generation in a new country. The main characters, Nazneen and her husband Chanu are believable and sympathetically developed. Ali doesn't take sides in their relationship, the reader understands the needs and aspirations of both of them, and what this means for their marriage. The supporting characters, especially Dr Azad, Mrs Islam and Razia add another layer of richness to the narrative. There is tragedy, sadness, conflict, touches of pathos and humour and ultimately, hope. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member minerva2607
Excellent first novel with great characterisation, some lovely observations and a sure use of language. Deals with Bangladeshi immigrants in London, but also with the notion of passivity and accepting one's fate versus taking control of one's life. It could have been a bit shorter (as it typifes
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the first writer's desire to get everything in), the language of the sister's letters feels false, and the ending is a little simplistic, but overall a good read.
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LibraryThing member booksbooks11
A wonderfully engaging story about a young woman's life in India and England, a struggle for her to find herself and live out her life with some dignity. I loved it!
LibraryThing member bebosafetycow
Um, it's about submissive Bangladeshi women in the 1980's in London. Yeah. It's pretty good.
LibraryThing member piefuchs
I liked this book almost inspite of tells the story of a woman who was brought to London to be part of an arranged marriage. Her husband, an older man who lived in London for a while, is unable to quite fit into the society that he so admires and so much wants to succeed in. He dreams
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large and fails to execute, leaving his wife in a position he himself resents - as havng to earn funds for the family. Both characters are very well developed, complexed, and flawed individuals and some scenes (such as when he has a surprise visit to his "friend" the doctor)in the book are painfully vivid and real. Every character in the book, in different ways, deals with the issue wanting to be part of, and yet hating, English culture.

In the end, the wife has an affair with a radical Islamaist who lives in their project. The whole affair plot fail to become believable and the book suffers. Finally, as with many young authors, great writing, great characters, mediocre plot.
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LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
A moving story about Bangladesh immigrants in London. Nazneen, the protagonist, arrives in London at the age of 18, the new bride in an arranged marriage to a 40-year-old "educated man." There are some masterful metaphors in this book: "Tariq talked fast, the words running into each other like
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raindrops down a windowpane." Also, the characters are finely drawn, complexly believable. All in all, though, the New York Times review describes this book best as "many pages that appear at once eventless and full." The eventlessness can, at times, drag down the pace
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LibraryThing member mbergman
The story of a Bangladeshi woman who is married off to a London emigrant & goes there to make a life & raise a family & try to find her place in the world despite indoctrination that constantly reminds her to accept her Fate & not struggle against it. It was OK, but this story of women from the
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Indian subcontinent dealing with the culture clash when they enter the Western world is beginning to be familiar.
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LibraryThing member Zmrzlina
I expected something a bit more, but only as far as the ending goes. I wish it ended 10 pages before it does. The story is not much different from any other woman-coming-into-her-own story I've read, which is why I don't read too many stories about women. If the second storyline about the sister
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who stayed in Bangladesh had not been left where it was, maybe I would have enjoyed it more.

The text of the sister's letters is written as if it has been translated from native language to English, which is an interesting, albeit often annoying, technique. Hard sometimes to read it but I think makes for a better feel for the difference in the two women.

Often I thought of how many Americans are about learning more about the world outside their own doors when I read how naive Nazneen's understanding of the world is. I wish many Americans could read this and see themselves. Maybe they would stop being so blind to the world around them.
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LibraryThing member aapjebaapje
I didn’t want to read this but it was on my shelf as the next in line so I did and I’m very glad I did. It is a contemporary novel about a bride from Bangladesh brought to London and her story from then until the present day. It followed her growth as a woman and provided an insight into
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immigrant life. I had never really appreciated fully the difficulties of immigrants and the prejudice they suffer until this book. I thought I did, but I didn’t.
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LibraryThing member msjoanna
I expected to like this book -- it has a lot of elements that bode well: An interesting setting, a Booker Prize, a female protagonist expected to grow as a person. But the book just didn't work for me. It was slow reading, the setting never really came alive, and I found myself hardly caring about
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the characters or their problems. Repeatedly, a plot development would occur that would make me think, "Oh, we'll get the part that brought this book so many accolades." But it never came true. So it goes.
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LibraryThing member Clurb
A study of a young Indian woman coming to terms with married life in England which is very worthy and touches on some intriguing issues but I couldn't make up my mind about this one. The tragi-comic character of Chanu kept me entertained throughout, and I thought Ali's portrayal of Nazneen's brief
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relationship with her son was very touching and sincere, but for the most part I found the main characters unfinished and unable to sustain my interest.

Whilst the ideas of community and belonging that Ali touches upon are worthy of investigation, I felt like Brick Lane was only half a discussion and that with a little more effort, Ali could have injected much more insight and interest into it all.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
Nazneen is taken to London from her home in a Bangladeshi village, for an arranged marriage to Chanu, a man twenty years older, who needs comforting. This is a story about the Journey of life, beginning within Islam and with a sense of hapless wonder. Bangaladeshis at the center of the universe.
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The immediacy of the village transported to a shtetl of London, the sister whose sufferings are communicated wordlessly by letters, the utterly sincere idiocy of young men, the need for succor and pity.
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LibraryThing member pastamaker08
Movie based on book released 2008. Similar story line to movie The Namesake?
LibraryThing member cinesnail88
After all the hype I had heard about this novel, it honestly didn't impress me that much. I pride myself on the fact that I read a lot of South Asian fiction, and so I feel pretty familiar with the genre. This one seemed too generic - it had a storyline that I feel like I've essentially read
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Ali's writing was nice, but I found myself constantly wanting more out of her characters. It wasn't a bad read, but it didn't really end up impressing me.
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LibraryThing member thejohnsmith
I enjoyed this book, got into the story, the characters and their lives but then got let down by the ending - it seemed to finish too abruptly.
LibraryThing member Lilian78
One of the few books I've started but couldn't finish. I found it very boring and not very well written.
LibraryThing member whirled
I always enjoy gaining some insight into another culture, in this case the Bangladeshi community in a London public housing estate. I also felt quite sympathetic towards Nazneen, a young woman chafing against the bonds of a traditional marriage. But my enjoyment of the book was significantly
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depleted by the character of Nazneen's husband Chanu, an insufferable know-it-all whose every word and deed is dictated by his fragile ego. I can't bear such men in real life, or in literature.
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