The Newlyweds is a cross-cultural love affair but not a romantic novel by any stretch of the imagination. It's more about misconceptions, misunderstandings and accommodations that come with relationships, compounded many times over when people come together from different backgrounds and with conflicting expectations. Amina emigrates to America to marry George, who she met on an online dating forum. Her plan is to bring her parents over as soon as she gains citizenship and becomes legally eligible and she can hardly envisage a life without them. Of course George, as a modern American husband, doesn't relish the idea of living with his in-laws and is reluctant to make the financial and other sacrifices it will take to bring it about. Further complications ensue when she discovers that George hasn't been entirely honest with her, and their relationship is tested by a number of setbacks, not least Amina's difficulty in conceiving.
It takes a brave writer to take on the persona of someone from another culture, ethnicity and religion and claim authenticity for their voice. I think Nell Freudenberger has pulled it off. No doubt there will be commentators with closer knowledge of Bangladesh who might pick holes in some of the details but her portrayal of Amina is convincing. This is a real flesh and blood character with heart and soul and the background is well-researched and avoids stereotypes.
I was surprised to see (at the time of writing) only one other five star review. For me this is first class writing and full of warmth and compassion for human frailty. Her tone reminds me a little of Anne Tyler, and the caught between two cultures - and two alternate futures - aspect of it was a little reminiscent of Colm Tobin's wonderful Brooklyn where Eilis faces a similar dilemma. Some reviewers have noted that the character of George isn't sufficiently rounded. I didn't have a problem with this at all. We don't get much of his interior life but then we see him through the eyes of Amina and she's just figuring him out for herself; disentangling the real George from his online persona and the generic American male with different values and habits from the people she is familiar with.
So definitely five stars from me. Reading it was pure pleasure and I am a little bereft now I have finished it.