Brick Lane, by Monica Ali.
Diaspora writing continues to fascinate readers and Brick Lane, by Monica Ali, is clear proof why. Winner of the Granta Best of British Novelists, 2003, it focuses on the enforced alienation of immigrants from the country of their birth and also from the country, chosen as residence.
Born in an impoverished village in Bangladesh, Nazneen is married off to a much older ‘educated’, man, who lives in Tower Hamlet, London. A naïve village girl with no English, bound by a fatalistic outlook inherited from her dead mother, she passively accepts her lot in life, looking after her husband and her infant son, confined in a poky little flat, surrounded by discarded and decrepit furniture, picked up by her husband .Chanu, her husband isn’t a bad man, just ineffectual and unlucky , chasing one failed project after another and is physically unappealing as well. Nazneen’s neighbours and the immigrant neighbourhood, impinges on her consciousness only very slightly and she hears and sees but never reacts.
A parallel story, narrated through letters, of her strikingly beautiful sister, who having eloped early in Bangladesh, goes through a series of misalliances and mishaps, allowing for a sharp juxtaposition of the Eastern and Western cultures and the lives of the two sisters, living on two different continents .
Nazneen loses her infant son, gives birth, in du course, to two girls, Shahana and Bibi, who are drawn into a confused vortex of a troubled relationship with their father, who insists on living life at home the Bangladeshi way and bringing them up traditionally.
Nazneen, remains a mute, and acutely nervous onlooker, unable to remonstrate her husband .
Her affair with Karim, the middleman, starts with her first determined strike to find personal and financial freedom by taking in sewing, that too, to really keep the home fires burning when she realizes Chanu inability to do anything constructively. So starts her journey to find herself and her own place in life.Karim’s quest for self definition, the clash of morals, values and cultures, the present day political scene, the intermeshing of complex relationships , happen along the way. The constant dichotomy of living in a foreign land yet always trying to retain one’s native self, forms the main thread of this story.
Compassionate and insightful, this is a story told skillfully and ultimately, with searing truthfulness. A wonderful read