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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A calm and poised book of subtlety and promise
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...
Published on 17 Sept. 2003 by ghandibob

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of two halves
The book centre's around Nazneen, an 18 year old Bangladeshi village girl thrust into council estate living in London after an arranged marriage to 40 year old Chanu. Ali follows Nazneens' development from confused, bewildered and displaced young woman into an even more confused and displaced wife and mother.

I found Brick Lane to be a book of 2 halves. The...
Published on 8 May 2009 by Lily Wren


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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 Sept. 2003
By 
ghandibob (Swansea) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Brick Lane (Hardcover)
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. And it also seems sometimes as if Chanu is too much of a cliché, a laughable misogynist, convinced he is better than he is and constantly let down by a world that takes him for a fool.
But Ali rescues this situation, this potential slide into adequacy. When talking to Dr Azad, Chanu's unlikely and seemingly antagonistic friend, near the end of the book, Ali shows us something in the relationship of the doctor and Nanzeen's husband that Nanzeen herself never saw. And without wishing to give away the end, there is much in Chanu's character that you do not see through Nanzeen's eyes. Ali avoids triteness by being true to the reality of her protagonist. Nanzeen has a sheltered life forced upon her - a Muslim attitude that Ali calls quietly into question throughout the novel - but as we see this painted as an unworkable structure in modern Britain, we also see that our heroine, not speaking English and not allowed out on her own, misses out on a great deal. It is only as she strikes out into her new world, decades after arriving there, that she begins to see just how little she really knows.
It seems that modern British fiction often ignores what is happening right now, in a way that it never did before. More than anything, Brick Lane addresses just how life has been for ordinary Muslims living in London in the last few years - without histrionics, without flashes of unlikely hyperbole, but with warmth and style and grace. Brick Lane doesn't teem with life and history like, to pick a perhaps unfair example, Rushdie's Midnight's Children, but it does work very well as an example of a young writer who has captured human truths that most everyone who ever tried to write a book would kill for.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of two halves, 8 May 2009
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
The book centre's around Nazneen, an 18 year old Bangladeshi village girl thrust into council estate living in London after an arranged marriage to 40 year old Chanu. Ali follows Nazneens' development from confused, bewildered and displaced young woman into an even more confused and displaced wife and mother.

I found Brick Lane to be a book of 2 halves. The first half took me about 2 weeks to read, it was hard going, at times boring and I can understand why some people gave up on it early. Fortunately, the second half took me a few days to read and was far more interesting. It is a slow moving book and I imagine it is meant to be so. A kind of documentary of one womans' transformation from girl to woman whilst seeking to find a place in a Western world she is far removed from.

On the whole, I enjoyed Brick Lane. It passed a good few days for me and was worth the read, if not the hype. Having said this I found myself uninvolved and having very little empathy for characters I felt I should have. I found them often one-dimensional despite their lives full of woes and sadness. I found very little affection, warmth and love in the telling of the story. Maybe this was meant to be so.

We see only brief glimpses of warmth in her thoughts of home and in the letters her sister wrote (and yes, I agree with some criticisms that the broken English the letters were written in were distracting and, at times, hard going). Her husband and children seemed to merely tolerate her. Her lover, Karim, also seems to merely tolerate her and, like their `secret' meetings, the relationship is kept under wraps.

I found that Nazneen had very little to say throughout the book until she developed later on. I noticed that in the first half her dialogue could be penned in one page and everyone around her spoke AT her, rather than with her. She appeared to me as a soundboard for everyone else's thoughts. She kept all things to herself, secrets, lies and worries. This was even more noticeable in the letters Hasina wrote to her and the ones she wrote back, or tried to write. Hasina often wrote long and interesting letters to her sister and showed a great deal of insight into what was happening around her and a self awareness whereas Nazneens' letters would barely scratch a paragraph.

As the book moved forward Nazneen become more vocal and I feel was an intentional part of Ali's writing to show the development of her character. That said, I felt that other characters had more to offer and drew me in more. Nazneens' eldest daughter Shahana, her friend Razia and Dr Azad's wife who made all but a brief appearance, all seemed more real to me. Karim seemed almost dreamlike, lacking substance and their relationship just didn't gel for me.

One thing I feel that is created rather well in Brick Lane, is the environment within which Nazneen lived. The description of her home, the council estate, plaster coming off the walls, the groups congregating around dog crap strewn streets, the desperation and lack of hope amongst some, all conjured images that were described so well by Ali. She contrasts these with glimpses of the poverty that Hasina was living amongst in Bangladesh. Yet somehow there seemed more hope there (or was she delluding herself?)and Hasina, no matter what she had gone through, always seemed a little more hopeful and happier than her sister, possibly illustrating how poverty is relative and often spiritual poverty can, in a way, be more damning than monetary poverty. It was this and the sidelined characters that seemed more tangible and interesting to me.

But perhaps that is as it is. Nazneen feeling unhappy, unloved, used, disenfranchised, displaced and, to a degree, invisible. Ali certainly does leave me with this impression of the central character in this book and this I believe is one thing to be recognised and applauded.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too heavy, 17 Jun. 2005
By 
O E J - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
I bought all the books that had been nominated for the 2003 MAN Booker Prize, Brick Lane being one of them so I had reasonably high expectations. I'm a little relieved, judging by the other reviews around mine here, to find out that I'm not the only one who couldn't wait to finish it (some gave up). It was interesting at first, but it seemed interminably long and by the time I was crying out for it to end, I was barely halfway through! Perhaps people from that part of London will find it more appealing, or those from Bangladesh. But this was one of those rare occasions when I thought I could use my time more usefully than read a book. How on earth did it get nominated ahead of (for example) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time? Beats me. All I can say is that it must be aimed at a niche market, those in that group will doubtless sing its praises but for the mass-market....I'm not so sure. Sometimes, the best people to write observations of specific cultures are those who live outside of those cultures rather than those who live within them. Maybe an 'outsider' can do it in a way that a wider audience will understand and appreciate.
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard work, 7 July 2004
By 
Jonathan Waterlow (Oxford) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
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. Hasina is perhaps my favourite character in the book: she refuses to let life cow her, even through extreme poverty and prostitution. It's a little irritating that her poignant letters to Nazneen, through which we discover her story, are the weakest part of the text. They're supposed to read like the words of someone partially literate, but as another reviewer noted, mixing poor syntax with beautiful and insightful imagery just doesn't work. It sounds forced and reminds us it's Monica Ali writing and not Hasina, making the whole text feel a little contrived and artificial.
Brick Lane suffers most of all from being an obvious first novel, however much the critics are already calling Monica Ali a natural super-author. I'm not saying she can't write - not at all, she can write prose with the best of them - but she hasn't yet learned how to keep her writing down to the bare essentials. Far too much of the story is superfluous - the book is just too long, for no justifiable reason. It seems that Ali had so many ideas she wanted to put into her book that she was prepared to twist the plot this way and that to fit in everything that she wanted to say. The story suffers as a result, repeatedly losing momentum (and thus my interest) thanks to incidental scenes which serve only to make another point about the difficulties faced by a Bangladeshi woman in an arranged marriage abroad. It often feels like the story has been put on hold for the sake of another bullet-point on a big list of "issues" Ali had next to her keyboard.
So, that probably sounds all very negative - but that's unfair because this is still a good book. It is often insightful and enlightening, and occasionally it is wise and very enjoyable. However, it is not the masterpiece so many critics seem determined to make it out to be. I just want to add a little balance to their hyperbole: for the average reader like me who doesn't love books just because they use heaps of symbolism and metaphor, or are clever just for the sake of being clever (think: Martin Amis), Brick Lane is more heavy going than it should be. It is still a rewarding read, but definitely not an easy one.
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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 "Grim Rob" (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brick Lane (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some wonderful characters, 19 July 2012
By 
Marand - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
Nazneen, a young bride taken to UK from her Bangladeshi village by her new husband to a tower block in Tower Hamlets. She leads the life of a traditional Bangladeshi woman, cloistered and sequestered, rarely leaving home alone, unable to work, speaking little or no English (since her interactions are virtually exclusively within the Bangladeshi community). Her husband, Chanu, prides himself on his education and is a serial collector of certificates, a man with big plans which never come to fruition. At the beginning of the book Chanu proclaims he is westernised but over the course of this long novel his Bangladeshi heritage becomes increasingly important to him.

The contrast is with Nazneen's younger sister, Hasina, who eloped for a love marriage which subsequently fails so that she flees to Dhaka and slips into a life of poverty and prostitution. That said, Hasina comes across as a strong character who isn't destroyed by the waves of misfortune that break over her. Her story is often told in the form of letters received by Nazneen. I have to say that I found these letters, written in pidgin English, to be useful in carrying the story on, but at the same time they were problematic as I couldn't see the point of writing them in broken English when they wouldn't have been written in English in the first place.

There is a large cast of characters, mostly convincing although the female characters are more attractive than the male. It is the women, ostensibly the 'weaker' parties, who demonstrate more insight, intelligence and get up and go than the few men who appear. Chanu in particular, whilst not a bad man, is irritating, lazy, ineffectual and seems almost perpetually bewildered by his lack of success. Single mother Razia comments of Chanu "certificates from here to here ... but the man is a bloody fool". It is hard to know how accurately the characters represent the Bengali community although some certainly ring true, and the renegade characters like Dr Azad's wife or indeed Razia do not conform to the stereotypical image of a Bengali woman and so provide an alternative view.

There is plenty of humour too, in a Jane Austen type way, and some lovely phrases which concisely convey an image. For example, "the sound of the walls that buzzed their eternal prayer of pipes and water and electricity" - you know exactly what she means. Whilst the book is set around Brick Lane and brings forward some of the issues facing the Bengali community there, the situation at 'home' in Bangladesh is also deftly conveyed through Hasina's descriptions of her trials and tribulations in Dhaka.

Although I enjoyed the book, I did find it rather slow and uneven at the beginning, indeed probably until the half way point when it seemed to open up. It is a long book, which of itself is not a problem, but I did think a bit of judicious editing would have helped.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but quite hardgoing in places, 26 Jun. 2010
By 
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
It took me a long time to read this book, but I did find myself looking forward to finding our what happened next. This is what I liked about it.

1)There are some really heart warming moments in it. The scenes in the hospital, Razia trying to get her son off drugs, the ending.

2)The character of Chanu is very convincing and three dimensional. His self obsession is created brilliantly and despite the fact he usually gets it wrong, there are parts of the book where you really sympathise with him.

3)The community at Tower Hamlets is really brought to life. Through the activists, rebels, traditionalists and children trying to break through, the writer builds up a really clear picture.

4)It's a really interesting story and explores something that lots of women have to go through; arranged marriage, homesickness , isolation and having to adapt to unfamiliar traditions.
Many parts of the book are brilliant. The ending, the attention to detail and the building up of characters. The image of Nazneen eating at the kitchen sink at midnight because she doesn't want her husband to see her eating is really poignant.

And this is what I didn't like

1)The letters from Hasina are fairly annoying. I don't understand why they are written in broken English as they would not have been written in English at all.

2)The way the writer deals with the passage of time. Sometimes many pages are used to describe something that seems mundane and insignificant and important events and feelings are skimmed over really quickly.

It's the kind of book you read a little bit at a time and keep coming back to. Not a quick read or the kind of book to take on holiday, as it requires lots of focus.
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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
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skifully woven story of North London and the sub-continent, 31 Mar. 2009
By 
John Holland (Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brick Lane (Paperback)
Sent to England to marry a husband she has never met, the book plots the growth and development of Nazneen from victim of an ancient cultural system to hero of the modern Asian woman. Through her eyes, we see the transformation of north London culture over three decades, from desperation to extremism.

The author uses letters from home to link the local setting with family connections back in Bangladesh, comparing Nazneen's challenges with the more extreme choices faced by her sister. These letters are written in a broken style to convey the language and distance separation, which seems unnecessary and can be frustrating to read at times. But, most of the book keeps the story moving along as Nazneen grows, learns to take on the system and develop strengths to surpass her mediocre husband.

The story develops as an immigrant tale for the first two thirds, but then develops a radical edge, centred around the events of 9/11. I guess the book was part written at this point, and these events may have influenced changes in the rest of the book. While the politics and challenges are handled well within the context of the novel, it seems to add to a drawn-out ending that lets down the rest of the book.
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86 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a very good novel, 10 Jun. 2003
By 
Simon Cross (RUSTINGTON, West Sussex. United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Brick Lane (Hardcover)
Over the past couple of months, there has been quite a bit of publicity surrounding Monica Ali, and how Granta named her as one of the UK's Top 20 young authors, even though at that time she had had nothing published.
Well, Granta were right, and Brick Lane more than lives up to the advance hype accorded to Ms. Ali. The Amazon review above gives some idea of the story, so I'll not repeat that. What it doesn't mention is that throughout the story of Nazneen's life in Tower Hamlets, there are letters from her sister Hasina, back in Bangladesh. These letters vividly portray (in broken English) daily life in Bangladesh, and the dangers of making a "love" marriage, reflected in the life of one of the characters in London.
Although the story of Nazneen's marriage to Chanu is a strong story, the real strengths of this novel are the characterisation and perceptive views of life in general. Particularly well-realised is Mrs. Islam, who turns into a very frightening old lady. Soon after Mrs. Islam's final personal appearance in the book, there is an unrelated moment of such pain, that it was almost unbearable to read. Writing such as that cannot be argued with.
The Amazon reviewer casts a little doubt on whether Monica Ali can follow this up, but that really does not matter. (A continuation would actually be very welcome.) This is a very, very good novel that gives voice to a London community rarely heard from, and also its international counterpart. If you have bothered to read this far, then don't hesitate any longer, buy this book today.
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Brick Lane
Brick Lane by Monica Ali (Paperback - 1 May 2004)
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