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Brick Lane [Paperback]

Monica Ali
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

22 April 2004

Still in her teenage years, Nazneen finds herself in an arranged marriage with a disappointed man who is twenty years older. Away from the mud and heat of her Bangladeshi village, home is now a cramped flat in a high-rise block in London's East End. Nazneen knows not a word of English, and is forced to depend on her husband. But unlike him she is practical and wise, and befriends a fellow Asian girl Razia, who helps her understand the strange ways of her adopted new British home.

Nazneen keeps in touch with her sister Hasina back in the village. But the rebellious Hasina has kicked against cultural tradition and run off in a 'love marriage' with the man of her dreams. When he suddenly turns violent, she is forced into the degrading job of garment girl in a cloth factory.

Confined in her flat by tradition and family duty, Nazneen also sews furiously for a living, shut away with her buttons and linings - until the radical Karim steps unexpectedly into her life. On a background of racial conflict and tension, they embark on a love affair that forces Nazneen finally to take control of her fate.

Strikingly imagined, gracious and funny, this novel is at once epic and intimate. Exploring the role of Fate in our lives - those who accept it; those who defy it - it traces the extraordinary transformation of an Asian girl, from cautious and shy to bold and dignified woman.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (22 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552771155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552771153
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

With its gritty Tower Hamlets setting, this sharply observed contemporary novel about the life of an Asian immigrant girl deals cogently with issues of love, cultural difference and the human spirit. The pre-publicity hype about Brick Lane was precisely the kind to set alarm bells ringing (we've heard it so often before), but, for once, the excitement is fully justified: Monica Ali's debut novel demonstrates that there is a new voice in modern fiction to be reckoned with.

Nazneen is a teenager forced into an arranged marriage with a man considerably older than her--a man whose expectations of life are so low that misery seems to stretch ahead for her. Fearfully leaving the sultry oppression of her Bangladeshi village, Nazneen finds herself cloistered in a small flat in a high-rise block in the East End of London. Because she speaks no English, she is obliged to depend totally on her husband. But it becomes apparent that, of the two, she is the real survivor: more able to deal with the ways of the world, and a better judge of the vagaries of human behaviour. She makes friends with another Asian girl, Razia, who is the conduit to her understanding of the unsettling ways of her new homeland.

This is a novel of genuine insight, with the kind of characterisation that reminds the reader at every turn just what the novel form is capable of. Every character (Nazneen, her disappointed husband and her resourceful friend Razia) is drawn with the complexity that can really only be found in the novel these days. In some ways, the reader is given the same all-encompassing experience as in a Dickens novel: humour and tragedy rub shoulders in a narrative that inexorably grips the reader. Whether or not Monica Ali can follow up this achievement is a question for the future; it's enough to say right now that Brick Lane is an essential read for anyone interested in current British fiction. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"'Ali has an impressive command of her story, but her real gift is in the richness of the lives she has created, populating Nazneen's London with a very entertaining cast of comic characters'" (The Times)

"'I was totally gripped by Brick Lane. A brilliant evocation of sensuality which might occur anywhere'" (Daily Telegraph)

"'Written with a wisdom and skill that few authors attain in a lifetime'" (The Sunday Times)

"'Comedy and poignancy abound...Brick Lane is a wonderful debut'" (Sunday Telegraph)

"'Brick Lane has everything: richly complex characters, a gripping story and it's funny too'" (Observer)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A calm and poised book of subtlety and promise 17 Sep 2003
By ghandibob VINE VOICE
There is a moment in Brick Lane when Nanzeen reads one of her sister's letters, sent to her in Britain from back in Bangladesh. Nanzeen, and by extension the reader of Brick Lane, is suddenly, and violently, taken to another world. Hasina, the beautiful younger sister who ran off to make a love match rather than allow herself to be part of an arranged marriage as Nanzeen did, recounts how her friend is in hospital because her husband pored acid over her face as a punishment. She will not live long. It is horrific and startling, and comes more as a shock because so much of Nanzeen's life is relatively sheltered. She is a Muslim woman who rarely leaves the house, much less the estate in Tower Hamlets on which she, her husband Chanu and her two daughters Shahana and Bibi live.
It would be a mistake to confuse the fact that Nanzeen is sheltered, however, with the idea that this novel is confined. It is a much more wide-ranging book that that. Politics, religion, love and, most important of all, intricate family dynamics are the driving forces behind this excellent debut from Ali. There is a lack of showiness that is admirable. She does not want to impress you with tricks and magic - the false truths of the conjurer. Instead, what Ali does is place, layer by layer, a subtle narrative worked around the figure of Nanzeen. The book, like the seam work Nanzeen eventually manages to find, allows the ordinary to invest life with something more than the sum of its parts.
This is not a perfect book by any means, though in most part it is very well told. The letters from Hasina that allow a window into the life Nanzeen may well have led had she stayed at home, and punctuate the story taking place near Brick Lane, can be distracting and perhaps do not quite work.
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68 of 77 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard work 7 July 2004
Ever since its original publication and almost instantaneous shortlisting for various awards, Brick Lane has been on my "to get round to reading" list. From the rave reviews across the cover from all the papers, I thought it would be a sure-fire hit with me too. However, this wasn't the case.
Nazneen's story, at first glance, is highly intriguing - a Bangladeshi woman in an arranged marriage, shipped off to a husband she's never met in London. Initially this remains interesting, but that soon fades as the story unfolds painfully slowly, with little sense of direction. Like so many Booker nominees, Ali takes 5 pages to say something that could be conveyed in a single sentence. She seems incapable of writing directly, always using complicated symbols that the reader has to untangle, or otherwise be left with a text that always seems to be hinting at something just out of shot. Consequently the text often feels like nothing is happening at all, unless you try to read into every single word Ali writes: professional critics may love subtexts, but I certainly do not if it's the *only* interesting layer in the novel. Essentially, everything takes far too long to happen, and the novel feels suffocating as a result. Of course, this may be Ali's intention, to illustrate how Nazneen feels in her arranged life over which she has no control, but this doesn't make reading Brick Lane any easier.
Despite this, Ali has a gift for potraying strong characters who you feel could really exist. A great deal of empathy is felt for Nazneen, and her sister Hasina, whose tragic life in Bangladesh illustrates another path Nazneen might have taken if she had tried to buck the repressive system.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 3 Aug 2004
By R. P. Sedgwick VINE VOICE
I was disappointed with this book. Brick Lane had the potential to be a good story, but it is overlong. There are far too many scenes and characters in the book than the plot justifies. In particular the letters from Hasina are almost unreadable and add very little to the book after the first few. It's a pity a lot of the chaff wasn't stripped out before Brick Lane was published, and it might have been a much better read.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not a prizewinner. 27 July 2004
By A Customer
I bought this book on the strength of comparisons between it and Zadie Smith's "White Teeth", which I loved for its fresh prose and superb characterisation.
I felt that "Brick Lane" lacked the marks of brilliance that glowing press reviews had led me to expect. The prose was competent, but didn't shine for me. I enjoy reading most when taken aback by a fresh turn of phrase or unexpected imagery. Not overly-clever, deliberate literary fiction, but the kind that demonstrates the writer is completely at home with words and language. I didn't find that in Ali's novel. Though there are some fresh touches, they are balanced with cliche. I find it hard to accept the use of similes as basic as "like a moth to a flame" in any work of modern fiction, so was very surprised to find it (I *think* without irony), here.
I felt that Ali's strength was in characterisation, but a year after first reading the book, I find that the characters have not lingered in my head as I imagined they might. I think Chanu is still there, though fading, but Nazneen remains only a memory of a discontented, not very pro-active woman.
I agree with the reviewer who pointed out how well Ali dealt with September 11th and its impact on this community. It was subtle and touching. I wanted to be drawn into a community so different from my own; I cannot tell how accurate a portrayal this is, but have to trust that Ali has a much better grasp of that reality than I do.
I felt drawn back to continue with each chapter, but this wasn't a novel I couldn't put down, nor one I couldn't bear to finish. It engaged me, but didn't take my breath away.
Not quite what I'd hoped for, and I am disappointed that it made the Booker Shortlist - surely a case of hype over substance, and a desperate search for "the new Zadie Smith"?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars BRICK LANE .IS NOT WHAT IT WAS
Published 9 days ago by CENTRAL LONDON MAN
5.0 out of 5 stars A different perspective
This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and makes me wonder what on earth won! An amazing tale of a muslim woman finding her voice. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Tracey Madeley
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent book, but doesn't stand out
After meaning to 'get round' to reading this for several years, I was slightly disappointed in it, although it's not a bad novel as such. Read more
Published 22 days ago by BookWorm
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read
It's a fantastic book of a family life without reading it you will not understand.
Published 29 days ago by sheik ahad
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Service excellent, just bought the book as it was a first printing - though she is a good author.
Published 1 month ago by D.Enamu
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious tripe!!!!
This is so typical of "Award winning books" - it is as boring as hell! Tedious, uninspiring and eminently predictable. Read more
Published 1 month ago by comm88
5.0 out of 5 stars Brick Lane
A clean book in good condition and as described which arrived in good time. Sorry nothing more to add. Read more
Published 3 months ago by grannyannie
5.0 out of 5 stars BRICK LANE
Published 3 months ago by jimbo
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and intense
I found this book really interesting and thought-provoking. There's not much action but it provides a nuanced and intense description of being thrown into the midst of an... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Cece de la Vela
2.0 out of 5 stars unconvincing
some good writing, but poor structure, meandering material and opaque & flimsy characters make for a very tedious read. only the husband is sympathetic.
Published 3 months ago by Zangiku
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