by Monica Ali
Nazneen is a young woman living with her family in Bangladesh and dreaming of her future. Soon she’s shipped to England where she’s married off to an older man. Her life becomes so small, confined almost entirely to their apartment. Her husband is gross and selfish and treats her like an employee. I understand it’s an arranged marriage, but it’s an awful situation. There’s no physical abuse, just a continual wearing down of her spirit. Her casual acceptance of her situation is heartbreaking and it was hard for me to identify with her.
When she finally has an affair you honestly don’t even care about the man she is sleeping with, it’s more about the fact that she’s finally done one tiny thing for herself. Even then it seems to make her more miserable than before. She also has two daughters who grow up in England and have a hard time embracing their parents’ culture. They are children of England, not Bangladesh and that divide makes it difficult for them to understand their mother’s decision to stay in a loveless marriage.
Part of the book consists of letters back and forth between Nazneen and her sister. Hasina ran away from home and married for love, but her life was not a happy one. I think the main purpose of that plot was to show Nazneen that things could always be worse, but at least Hasina chose her own life.
I felt like we are waiting for something to happen for the entire book and then nothing does. It’s this uphill slog that you think will end with an incredible view, but when you reach the top there’s nothing to see. She never goes to see her sister, she never gets caught in the affair, etc. She just decides to stay at home when her husband leaves. That was good in its own way, but there was no real resolution.
The fact that I couldn’t identify with the main character wasn’t a deal breaker for me in anyway. I love learning about different cultures. I love seeing the struggle that comes from immigrating to a new country and trying to understand their customs. The problem was that Nazneen didn’t seem interested in anything. I felt like I couldn’t root for her when she couldn’t even root for herself.
BOTTOM LINE: Geez I struggled with this one. It’s such a slow moving novel. I felt like I was living through those years of stifling boredom with Nazneen, and not in the good way. There is some beautiful writing, but for me it wasn’t enough to balance out the slog through the story.