Brick Lane by Monica Ali

I saw Monica Ali speak at the Sydney Writers Festival 2009 in a segment on freedom of speech, meant to commemorate 20 years since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. She was a fascinating speaker and I had heard great things about her first novel, Brick Lane, which was long listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize. When I came across the book at Elizabeths in Newtown, I couldn't resist.

It is undoubtedly a well written and topical book. It's main character, Nazneen, is taken from her traditional Bangladeshi village at age 18 and sent to England where she enters into an arranged marriage to an older man. In contrast, her sister Hasina breaks tradition and makes a love marriage, which eventually fails, ad Hasina is forced to return to Bangladesh and make her own way in the world. Nazneen on the other hand finds herself in better conditions, but in a world she doesn't understand and a country who's language she doesn't speak. She is lucky to have a 'good' husband by traditional standards; he does not beat her for which she is grateful. On the other hand, he does not encourage her to leave the house or learn English because there is no need for her to do so. She does her duty to her husband, and later to her children, but she is still unsatisfied at a basic level. As a result, she commences an affair with a young Islamic radical, Karim.

In the background to her personal story, are the race struggles going on the country and closer to home in her apartment buildings. There is particular emphasis to this post September 11. Nazneen is upset by the images of atrocities committed against other Islamic people throughout the world, although I think that participating in the movement had a lot to do with giving herself something to do and spending time with Karim. As I said, the book is very topical and is an interesting depiction of how racial differences and religious conflict affect people on an individual level.

I have to admit that although I enjoyed the book, it perhaps wasn't as good as I expected it to be, although perhaps my expectations were too high. I'm not sure that I really enjoyed Ali's writing style and that perhaps prevented me from enjoying the story as well as I might otherwise have done. Don't get me wrong, it was really well written, it just wasn't really my thing.

I particularly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in issues of racial and religious conflict throughout the work, particularly anyone looking for a fictionalised story of how these larger issues affect individuals in their daily lives.

Star Rating

6 / 8

Really enjoyable and well written. I would recommend it.