vendredi 28 mars 2008

A RWB Favorite

Brick Lane by Monica Ali was first published in 2003 to great critical acclaim. Universally hailed by critics and readers alike, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize of 2003 and Ali was hailed as one of the year’s best new writers. It is a big sprawling hefty story covering close to twenty years of the life of Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman. The book begins with Nazneen’s auspicious birth but the real story begins when she is betrothed at the age of 18 to Chanu, twenty years older than she is and living in London’s Brick Lane. From there it charts their marriage and Nazneen’s life as she makes her way in an altogether foreign world. Her story is interspersed with that of her beloved sister Hasina, who is left behind in Bangladesh. As the book progresses we see the growth of Nazneen as a young woman who believes that she must forever bow to destiny’s demands into a self-fulfilled woman, capable of taking things in her own capable hands. And the catalyst for such change is her incendiary affair with a young radical named Karim.
Though Brick Land is the writer’s first novel, there are no missteps that a novice writer may make. Lyrical and evocative, it is written with a sure and deft hand. The story never falters and Ali has succeeded in writing a rich and textured story. The main characters of Nazneen and Chanu are fully fleshed and sympathetic in all their flaws. As Nazneen comes to realize that she loves her husband, despite or perhaps because all his loud posturing hides a delicate sensibility, so too does the reader come to feel great affection for him. And ironically enough, it is the affair with Karim that makes Nazneen realize the great worth of her marriage. What is perhaps the novel’s greatest achievement is the convincing portrayal of Nazneen’s transformation to a self determined and determining woman. It is all the more impressive given her beginnings and the traditional conditioning she has always received.
The book succeeds on another level with its depiction of the immigrant life in Brick Lane. Though the main characters are Nazneen and Chanu, we also meet a host of memorable other characters who have like Nazneen, fought to have a place in a soil not their own. The novel tackles the often thorny issue of trying to transport cultural values and traditions in a different place and the different ways by which people try to adjust. And as can be imagined, this is often fraught with conflict and difficulties. The inclusion of such an element in the book adds another layer of richness to the story.

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