Summary and book reviews of Brick Lane by Monica Ali

Brick Lane

By Monica Ali

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

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Book Summary

Monica Ali's gorgeous first novel is the deeply moving story of one woman, Nazneen, born in a Bangladeshi village and transported to London at age eighteen to enter into an arranged marriage. Already hailed by the London Observer as "one of the most significant British novelists of her generation," Ali has written a stunningly accomplished debut about one outsider's quest to find her voice.

What could not be changed must be borne. And since nothing could be changed, everything had to be borne. This principle ruled her life. It was mantra, fettle, and challenge.

Nazneen's inauspicious entry into the world, an apparent stillbirth on the hard mud floor of a village hut, imbues in her a sense of fatalism that she carries across continents when she is married off to Chanu, a man old enough to be her father. Nazneen moves to London and, for years, keeps house, cares for her husband, and bears children, just as a girl from the village is supposed to do. But gradually she is transformed by her experience, and begins to question whether fate controls her or whether she has a hand in her own destiny.

Motherhood is a catalyst -- Nazneen's daughters chafe against their father's traditions and pride -- and to her own amazement, Nazneen falls in love with a young man in the community. She discovers both the complexity that comes with free choice and the depth of her attachment to her husband, her daughters, and her new world.

While Nazneen journeys along her path of self-realization, her sister, Hasina, 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 not bound, by their landscapes and memories, both sisters struggle to dream -- and live -- beyond the rules prescribed for them.

Vivid, profoundly humane, and beautifully rendered, Brick Lane captures a world at once unimaginable and achingly familiar. And it establishes Monica Ali as a thrilling new voice in fiction. As Kirkus Reviews said, "She is one of those dangerous writers who see everything."

Chapter One
MYMENSINGH DISTRICT, EAST PAKISTAN, 1967

An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen's life began--began as it would proceed for quite some time, that is to say uncertainly--her mother, Rupban, felt an iron fist squeeze her belly. Rupban squatted on a low three-legged stool outside the kitchen hut. She was plucking a chicken because Hamid's cousins had arrived from Jessore and there would be a feast. "Cheepy-cheepy, you are old and stringy," she said, calling the bird by name as she always did, "but I would like to eat you, indigestion or no indigestion. And tomorrow I will have only boiled rice, no parathas."

She pulled some more feathers and watched them float around her toes. "Aaah," she said. "Aaaah. Aaaah." Things occurred to her. For seven months she had been ripening, like a mango on a tree. Only seven months. She put aside those things that had occurred to her. For a while, an hour and a half, though she did not know it, until the men came in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the beginning of Monica Ali's novel, Brick Lane, we follow the protagonist Nazneen from her rural Bangladeshi village to London where she has gone from teenager to married woman. How does Nazneen cope with the transition? In what small ways does she rebel against her fate?

  2. Chapter 2 presents Dr. Azad, the enigmatic doctor who becomes Chanu's unlikely friend. Nazneen is often bewildered by their friendship; what is the tie that binds this odd couple?

  3. When Nazneen sees the ice skaters on television, she is immediately captivated. This image is recalled several times throughout the novel, at the end of the book Nazneen is at an ice-skating rink, about to skim the ice for the first time. What does the ice skating symbolize?
    ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New Yorker

In Ali’s subtle narration, Nazneen’s mixture of traditionalism and adaptability, of acceptance and restlessness, emerges as a quiet strength.

Granta - Ian Jack

Ali describes in quite an intricate way how a Muslim housewife might think and behave and what her aspirations might be. Brick Lane is a brilliant book about things that matter.

Booklist - Elsa Gaztambide

In an extremist male society, Nazneen must grasp at flecks of freedom, and Ali is extraordinary at capturing the female immigrant experience through her character's innocent perspective.

The New York Times - Michael Gorra

Admittedly, a first novel lets the writer learn her trade, and a reader shouldn't use it to hazard much in the way of prediction. Writers are prone to false starts and slumps, and some of them always run the same race, incapable of changing stride. It usually takes two or three books to establish their form -- and yet Monica Ali already has a sense of technical assurance and an inborn generosity that cannot be learned. Brick Lane inspires confidence about the career that is to come.

Publishers Weekly

Carefully observed and assured, the novel is free of pyrotechnics, its power residing in Ali's unsparing scrutiny of its hapless, hopeful protagonists.

Kirkus Reviews

Newcomer Ali was born in Bangladesh and raised in England, where Brick Lane has been acclaimed, and rightly so she is one of those dangerous writers who sees everything.

Library Journal - Ellen Flexman

Most coming-of-age novels focus on an adolescent learning about life and love for the first time. Ali's debut shows that a 34-year-old mother of two can discover the joys and pains of growing up as well as any youngster...Hers is a refreshing glimpse into the everyday lives of families seeking balance between tradition and the demands of the wider world. Highly recommended for all libraries.

The Sunday Times (UK)

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.

Evening Standard (UK)

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.

The London Observer

Already one of the most significant British novelists of her generation.

Author Blurb Amy Hempel, author of Tumble Home and Reasons to Live
Monica Ali's power as a storyteller, her wisdom and compassionate stance, make this remarkable novel a total-immersion experience. I was quickly taken over by the community, culture, and vision she presents so forcefully.

Reader Reviews
Altaf

Chanu is exploited by writer
I have known from the novel that Chanu is student of English at Dhaka University and a professor at London, who bears knowledge about philosophy, ethnicity, racism, class and so on. As an educated man why he does feel obstacle to enrich his career in...   Read More

Rana Sinha

Daring yet nonjudgemental exposition of Bangladeshi immigrant world in the UK.
In her first novel Monica Ali does in brilliant job in placing her characters in their larger context. Typically novels of this genre are very demanding on readers who do not have much insight of the other culture. Monica Ali manages to interpret the...   Read More

Mona

This novel, though a first one written by Monica Ali deserves all the praise it gets. This is because the book is so beautifully written and is even complicated in its simplicity. As opposed to what some people complain about, this novel is not about...   Read More

mohita datta

Brick Lane is like a ton of bricks falling on the shining reviews of well-known publications. It sounds so rehashed and cliched- right from the grubby interiors of the Bangladreshi-immigrants home & life to pompous and foolish husband. the story is ...   Read More

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