Excerpt from Brick Lane by Monica Ali, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Brick Lane

By Monica Ali

Brick Lane
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Sep 2003,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2004,
    432 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Yes, that is so," said Razia. "It is the worst thing, for any woman."

"And at sixteen floors up, if you decide to jump, then there's the end to it." Mrs. Islam extracted a handkerchief and wiped away a little sweat from her hairline. Just looking at her made Nazneen feel unbearably hot.

"There's no chance of ending up a vegetable, if you jump from that high," agreed Razia. She accepted a cup from Nazneen and held it in her man-size hands. She wore black lace-up shoes, wide and thick-soled. It was the sari that looked strange on her. "But of course it was an accident. Why say otherwise?"

"A terrible accident," said Mrs. Islam. "But everyone is whispering behind the husband's back."

Nazneen sipped her tea. It was ten past five and all she had done was chop two onions. She had not heard about the accident. Chanu had mentioned nothing. She wanted to know who this woman was who had died so terribly. She formed some questions in her mind, phrased and rephrased them.

"It is a shame," said Razia. She smiled at Nazneen. Nazneen thought Razia did not look as though she really thought so. When she smiled she looked deeply amused, although her mouth turned up only slightly to indicate pity rather than laughter. She had a long nose and narrow eyes that always looked at you from an angle, never straight on, so that she seemed perpetually to be evaluating if not mocking you.

Mrs. Islam made a noise signaling that it was, indeed, a shame. She took a fresh handkerchief and blew her nose. After a decent interval she said, "Did you hear about Jorina?"

"I hear this and that," said Razia, as if no news about Jorina could possibly interest her.

"And what do you say to it?"

"That depends," said Razia, looking down her nose at her tea, "on what particular thing you mean."

"I don't tell anything that isn't known already. You can hardly keep it a secret when you begin going out to work."

Nazneen saw that Razia looked up sharply. Razia did not know the things that Mrs. Islam knew. Mrs. Islam knew everything about everybody. She had been in London for nearly thirty years, and if you were a Bangladeshi here, what could you keep secret from her? Mrs. Islam was the first person who called on Nazneen, in those first few days when her head was still spinning and the days were all dreams and real life came to her only at night, when she slept. Mrs. Islam was deemed by Chanu to be "respectable." Not many people were "respectable" enough to call or be called upon. "You see," said Chanu when he explained this for the first time, "most of our people here are Sylhetis. They all stick together because they come from the same district. They know each other from the villages, and they come to Tower Hamlets and they think they are back in the village. Most of them have jumped ship. That's how they come. They have menial jobs on the ship, doing donkey work, or they stow away like little rats in the hold." He cleared his throat and spoke to the back of the room so that Nazneen turned her head to see who it was he was addressing. "And when they jump ship and scuttle over here, then in a sense they are home again. And you see, to a white person, we are all the same: dirty little monkeys all in the same monkey clan. But these people are peasants. Uneducated. Illiterate. Close-minded. Without ambition." He sat back and stroked his belly. "I don't look down on them, but what can you do? If a man has only ever driven a rickshaw and never in his life held a book in his hand, then what can you expect from him?"

Nazneen wondered about Mrs. Islam. If she knew everybody's business then she must mix with everybody, peasant or not. And still she was respectable.

"Going out to work?" Razia said to Mrs. Islam. "What has happened to Jorina's husband?"

"Nothing has happened to Jorina's husband," said Mrs. Islam. Nazneen admired the way the words left her mouth, like bullets. It was too late now to ask about the woman who fell from the sixteenth floor.

From Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Copyright Monica Ali 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"

    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist


Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.