Brick Lane, by Monica Ali, is a story that depicts immigrant life in London’s East End, with flavor and flair. From the first page to the last, this reader inhaled her prose, and her defining of community assimilation so effectively.
Not only are the immigrants a part of the whole, in relation to community, but they are also a part of familial dreams, traditions and expectations. And, they are also individuals, who try to grasp the enormity of what it is to survive in another culture, and survive in their own cultural world, within the confines of the East End.
Two sisters, each married with different perspectives on life, love and domesticity. Nazneen’s marriage to Chanu is an arranged one, and she finds herself in the midst of life in London, a life with restrictions and cultural mores and traditions of the Bangladesh she left behind. Her sister, Hasina, remains in Bangladesh, and married for love. Through Nanzeen’s loneliness, her letters from her sister become a source of comfort, in a world where there is little to comfort her.
She is the dutiful wife and mother, takes care of household issues, and takes care of her husband and fulfills his desires within the poverty-stricken environment they live in. Chanu, ever the dreamer, is a life-long student, always taking some type of course in which he hopes to improve their lifestyle. He feels the key to success is education. He doesn’t quite understand that is education will get him nowhere, due to the cultural divide.
His educational efforts do not come to fruition as far as a promotion on his job, and he eventually has to resort to driving cabs. He sees the light, and has to acknowledge to himself the failure of his situation. His learning has gotten him nowhere, nowhere except a demeaning job forced upon him in order to survive and feed his family.
Nanzeen and Chanu’s children are handfuls. They are arrogant and do not agree with the old customs and traditions. They show a facade, as far as their Islamic religion and culture, within the realm of their neighborhood.
Nanzeen, herself, demonstrates growth potential. She eventually gains a sense of independence, and sense of self. She begins to wander from her neighborhood, and begins to realize there are other aspects to life, aside from the strictness forced on her within her marriage and familial traditions.
Some of what she experiences are fostered in part by her correspondence with her sister, Hasina. Hasina speaks of marriage with love, marriage as an ideal. Yet, as time goes by, Nanzeen realizes the fallacy of her sister’s life.
Monica Ali has created a novel that speaks to the heart and soul, one that brings emotional levels that rise up and decline. Yet, through it all, Nanzeen matures in ways that are realistic, especially her growth being a slow process within the Bangladesh community of London’s East End. Step by step, she advances through the years, and becomes a more self-assured person within the world of intense tradition and expectations.
Ali’s writing is a bit drawn out, in my opinion. The book could have been shortened, but aside from that, her prose is intense, vivid and filled with excellent word-imagery. The imagery is so astute and sharp that this reader could almost see, taste, smell and inhale the London, East End, and all of its Bangladesh flavors and community aspects.
I could go on and on, but you must read this book yourself in order to grasp the seriousness of the socialization, deprivation, integration, and assimilation aspects of Brick Lane.