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Brick Lane Hardcover – 2 Jun 2003

3.3 out of 5 stars 191 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First edition (2 Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038560484X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385604840
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 167,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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


'... Surely, Brick Lane can't be that good. Actually, it's better.' -- Observer

'Ali's mastery of her material is impressive ... as a first novel, it is exceptional.' -- Literary Review

'As ambitious in scale as Smith's White Teeth ... a wonderful debut.' -- Sunday Telegraph

'In years to come, Brick Lane may be one of the Nation's Favourite Books.' -- Spectator

'Luminous ... uplifting ... important.' -- Daily Telegraph

'What makes this novel is its rich realism ... much in common with the early V.S. Naipaul.' -- New Statesman

'What's so remarkable about BRICK LANE is its assurance: the writing is laudably unfussy, the tone incredibly tender.' -- Time Out

'Written with the wisdom and skill few authors attain in a lifetime.' -- Sunday Times

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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