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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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Product Description

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.

Review

"'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)

Book Description

The literary debut of a huge storytelling talent

From the Back Cover

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2003

SHORTLISTED FOR THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2003

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

At the tender age of eighteen, Nazneen's life is turned upside down. After an arranged marriage to a man twenty years her elder she exchanges her Bangladeshi village for a block of flats in London's East End. In this new world, where poor people can be fat and even dogs go on diets, she struggles to make sense of her existence - and to do her duty to her husband. A man of inflated ideas (and stomach), he sorely tests her compliance.

But Nazneen submits, as she must, to Fate and devotes her life to raising her family and slapping down her demons of discontent. Until she becomes aware of a young radical, Karim.

Against a background of escalating racial and gang conflict, they embark on an affair that finally forces Nazneen to take control of her life...

SHORTLISTED FOR THE GUARDIAN FICTION PRIZE 2003

GRANTA BEST OF YOUNG BRITISH NOVELISTS 2003

About the Author

was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She is one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists of the decade, Newcomer of the Year at the 2004 British Book Awards and has been nominated for most of the major literary prizes in Britain. Brick Lane was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the George Orwell Prize for political writing and the prestigious Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Internationally there has been similar recognition including, in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times 'First Fiction' Prize where the book was shortlisted.

Monica Ali lives in London with her husband and two children, and is working on her next novel.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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 those things that had occurred to her aside. For a while, an hour and a half, though she did not know it, until the men came in from the fields trailing dust and slapping their stomachs, Rupban clutched Cheepy-cheepy's limp and bony neck and said only coming, coming to all enquiries about the bird. The shadows of the children playing marbles and thumping each other grew long and spiky. The scent of fried cumin and cardamom drifted over the compound. The goats bleated high and thin. Rupban screamed white heat, red blood.
Hamid ran from the latrine, although his business was unfinished. He ran across the vegetable plot, past the towers of rice stalk taller than the tallest building, over the dirt track that bounded the village, back to
the compound and grabbed a club to kill the man who was killing his wife. He knew it was her. Who else could break glass with one screech? Rupban was in the sleeping quarters. The bed was unrolled, though she was still standing. With one hand she held Mumtaz's shoulder, with the other a half-plucked chicken.
Mumtaz waved Hamid away. 'Go. Get Banesa. Are you waiting for a rickshaw? Go on, use your legs.'

Banesa picked up Nazneen by an ankle and blew disparagingly through her gums over the tiny blue body. 'She will not take even one breath. Some people, who think too much about how to save a few takas, do not call a midwife.' She shook her hairless, wrinkled head. Banesa claimed to be one hundred and twenty years old, and had made this claim consistently for the past decade or so. Since no one in the village remembered her birth, and since Banesa was more desiccated than an old coconut, no one cared to dispute it. She claimed, too, one thousand babies of which only three were cripples, two were mutants (a hermaphrodite and a humpback), one a stillbirth and another a monkey-lizard-hybrid-sin-against-God-that-was-buried-alive-in-the-faraway-forest-and-the-
mother-sent-hence-to-who-cares-where. Nazneen, though dead, could not be counted among these failures, having been born shortly before Banesa creaked inside the hut.
'See your daughter,' Banesa said to Rupban. 'Perfect everywhere. All she lacked was someone to ease her path to this world.' She looked at Cheepy-cheepy lying next to the bereaved mother and hollowed her cheeks; a hungry look widened her eyes slightly although they were practically buried in crinkles. It was many months since she had tasted meat, now that two young girls (she should have strangled them at birth) had set up in competition.
'Let me wash and dress her for the burial,' said Banesa. 'Of course I offer my service free. Maybe just that chicken there for my trouble. I see it is old and stringy.'
'Let me hold her,' said Nazneen's aunt, Mumtaz, who was crying.
'I thought it was indigestion,' said Rupban, also beginning to cry.
Mumtaz took hold of Nazneen, who was still dangling by the ankle, and felt the small, slick torso slide through her fingers to plop with a yowl onto the bloodstained mattress. A yowl! A cry! Rupban scooped her up and named her before she could die nameless again.
Banesa made little explosions with her lips. She used the corner of her yellowing sari to wipe some spittle from her chin. 'This is called a death rattle,' she explained. The three women put their faces close to the child. Nazneen flailed her arms and yelled, as if she could see this terrifying sight. She began to lose the blueness and turned slowly to brown and purple. 'God has called her back to earth,' said Banesa, with a look of disgust.
Mumtaz, who was beginning to doubt Banesa's original diagnosis, said, 'Well, didn't He just send her to us a few minutes ago? Do you think He changes His mind every second?'
Banesa mumbled beneath her breath. She put her hand over Nazneen's chest, her twisted fingers like the roots of an old tree that had worked their way above ground. 'The baby lives but she is weak. There are two routes you can follow,' she said, addressing herself solely to Rupban. 'Take her to the city, to a hospital. They will put wires on her and give medicines. This is very expensive. You will have to sell your jewellery. Or you can just see what Fate will do.' She turned a little to Mumtaz to include her now, and then back to Rupban. 'Of course, Fate will decide everything in the end, whatever route you follow.'
'We will take her to the city,' said Mumtaz, red patches of defiance rising on her cheeks.
But Rupban, who could not stop crying, held her daughter to her breast and shook her head. 'No,' she said, 'we must not stand in the way of Fate. Whatever happens, I accept it. And my child must not waste any energy fighting against Fate. That way, she will be stronger.'
'Good, then it is settled,' said Banesa. She hovered for a moment or two because she was hungry enough, almost, to eat the baby but after a look from Mumtaz she shuffled away back to her hovel. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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