Tag Archives: Assimilation

Review: Brick Lane

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.

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Book Diva Review: Simon’s Family

Simon’s Family, by Marianne Fredriksson leaves us to ponder what defines family.

This was a well-written novel on the aspects of what it means to be a family. Families come in many forms, such as, biological, extended family, imaginative families, and those we choose to be part of our family. Extended families play an important role in Simon’s life.

Simon Larsson and Isak Lentov are eleven years old friends. Isak is Jewish, and from a wealthy home, and when Simon visits Isak, he begins to see the differences in their life styles. When Isak visits Simon, he finds a family surrounded with love and caring. Each one comes to discover their differences, their similarities, and their uniqueness, within familial confines.

The story takes place during the pre-World War II period continuing through the war. This exceptionally insightful story deals with mothers and sons, three generations of women, and how they affect their sons, both emotionally and physically. T he book also sends a strong message on how we assimilate into society, the way we choose to fit in.

Issues of stability and fear are detailed, as if we are within the bodies feelings the emotions of the book’s characters. The word-imagery is vivid. The book grapples with how fear plays a major factor in some lives, and how it can imprison us, if we let it.

Familial roles are played out, by relatives, friends and others…with the children always at the end of the rope, as a tug-of-war progresses and continues. The novel is a metaphor for the relationships between mothers and sons, and is exquisitely written, with beautiful depictions.

I would recommend Simon’s Family, by Marianne Fredriksson to everyone who is interested in societal structure and cultural boundaries, and those interested in the difference and sameness, within all of us. It is a Jewel of a book!

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Book Diva Review: The Jewel Trader of Pegu

the jewel trader of pegu The Jewel Trader of Pegu, by Jeffrey Hantover is a well-written novel, almost poetic in its word imagery, told through letters written by the primary narrator, Abraham to his cousin Joseph.

The letters describe Pegu, the exotic city where Abraham arrives at the age of 28, in order to buy jewels for his uncle (in Venice) to sell. In Pegu, Abraham, who is Jewish, can roam free, without restrictions, as he had in Venice, behind the closed walls, of the Jewish ghetto. He doesn’t have to wear his yellow cap, that all male Jews were required to wear, and he can roam the streets without adhering to a curfew. We see Abraham’s inner/emotional character develop and begin to flourish, after being closed off due to the death of his wife, and due to his envrironment in Venice. His new found autonomy also brings him love, a woman named Mya, a love like he has never experienced, a love that opens his heart and senses. Mya’s caring changes him, and allows him to experience emotional freedom. This freedom also requires that Abraham fill Pegu’s cultural and societal expectations of him.

If he fulfills the expectations and cultural traditions, he will then go against his religious beliefs. His two precious items that he brought with him from Venice are a Torah, and a prayerbook. They are the gems of his life, worth more to him than any fine jewel. He is an intensely spiritual person, and Judaism and its practices are a vital part of his life. He prays daily, and he is very observant.

Therein lies the dilemma and the divide, religious beliefs versus cultural beliefs, the mores of both. Within the confines of his new life in Pegu, he tries to justify his subsequent actions, written within the letters sent to his cousin. Assimilation and acceptance are primary factors within the pages, and the issue of religion over secular living. The novel delves into cultural and religious mores, life lived from one extreme to the other, and paints the diversity of the world traders who come to 16th century Pegu in order to gain wealth.

The Jewel Trader of Pegu is predictable, it is not a book that is a page-turner, yet it is a somewhat mesmerizing and mystical novel, filled with lovely imagery of time and place. The novel contrasts two countries, their cultural and religious differences and beliefs, their lifestyles, and their similarities. It has some historical merit within its pages that flow with glimpses of 16th century Southeast Asia. Jeffrey Hantover delivers prose, which is often colorful and vivid.

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The Counterlife, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth has long been one of my favorite male authors, and in his novel, The Counterlife, I am reminded of his ability to blend the bizarre twists and turns that life throws us into a work of art that resounds with his full range and depth of literary intensity.

Nathan and Henry Zuckerman are estranged brothers, so very different, yet unaware how much alike they actually are. Nathan is an author, Henry is a dentist. For one of them, the reason for living borders on being able to be sexually active. In this respect, he decides to undergo surgery in order to counteract that problem. Even though the surgery could kill him, he elects to take that chance, all in the name of sexual identity. It is his counter life, to fit a desired outcome, a longing for what many of us want, a home, a family, marriage, and the “idealized” life.

Nathan, has long been estranged from Henry, and as an author, seems to live through his brother, writing novels whose characters include Henry. He has a counterlife through his stories, his fantasies and fiction, and his identity is one that is alive due to Henry. Although he is a prolific author in his own right, his works are derived from Henry’s life.

Therein lies the clue in this well written novel. The issue of identity, and what it means to us, is at the core of the story line. What one will do, in order to preserve identity, to create the life we long for, and what we view as our Self, our essence, is the soul of the book. The characters each invent a counter life, a life invented, a life created, in order to transfer their current life, into one they believe is better. The reader is exposed to the characters fears and how they choose to rewrite their own histories.

From travels to Israel, and connecting with one’s Jewish spirituality, to funeral attendance, and delivering a eulogy, from the streets of the U.S, to France, and England, we are confronted with issues of identity, including spirtiual, emotional, sexual, and all the levels and tiers in between. We are confronted with our own questions of identity, who we are, what we believe, and, finally the question of whether the end result is our own creation of ourselves?

Roth writes with humor, with seriousness, and with a profound and intense insight into the humanity, the insecurities, the deep fears, and the identity crises that exists within all of us. Roth’s strong words and strong theme, shows us how a counter life is not always productive, but could produce undesirable effects, in the end. We might not always receive what we wish for, but then again, we might receive it, but it could turn out that our counter life is actually counter-productive. Philip Roth’s The Counterlife is excellent, and his writing is masterful and brilliant, encapsulating the full range of emotions, and writing down to the bare bones, as only he knows how.

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American Pastoral, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s American Pastoral is a novel that is filled with so much insight, description, vivid details, emotion, and intensity, that I read it straight through. It is a novel I have wanted to read for quite some time, and I am definitely glad I finally did. I am an avid Roth fan, and have read most of his books, and am always intrigued by his brilliance in writing on the emotional aspects of the human story, why we become who we are within our environment, and how we not only perceive ourselves but how others perceive us, and how we view others within the scheme of our lives.

The main character is a man named Swede Levov, a Jew, who feels he is living the so-called “American Dream” the life pastoral. His light hair, fair complexion and skill in sports earned him the nickname of Swede. This name carried with him throughout his life, evoking adoration from others, evoking a false sense of security within himself, evoking promises of the good life, for those who shoulder the burdens of life, for those who internalize their feelings.

Swede is the good son, the son that his parents adore for the attention and admiration he brings to them, in a world where Jews are not normally paid attention to. He brings them luck, and brings himself luck. He is the high school hero, the one the boys and girls look up to, the one that all girls dream of marrying. He marries a former Miss New Jersey, and they build a life together. Swede inherits his father’s glove factory. He and his wife, Dawn, find a stone house that he loves, and they buy it. They seem to be living the idyllic life in the New Jersey suburbs, in the village of Old Rimrock. They have a daughter named Merry, who turns out to be the thorn in their side.

Merry commits a crime of passion and terrorism, which causes Swede, his wife, and other family members to turn inward, causing their lives to become overturned, emotionally and physically. Life is never the same for this “American Pastoral” family, and Merry’s act of crime and violence bring Swede to his knees with sorrow, anger, leaving him to question his own life. The once calm Swede, turns violent within his internal Being, screaming inside himself, unable to emit and belch out his true feelings, in order not to upset his wife and the rest of his family. He shoulders all the emotional burdens, because that is what is expected of him.

This is all he knows, his life burdens kept in quietude, on the back burner, in order to keep up the illusion of the hero, the man with everything, the man everyone admires and looks up to, the man everyone wants to become. When Swede’s daughter commits the unthinkable act, his very essence is questioned, and the deplorable aspects of who he is and what he has become are shown with a clarity he never knew existed.

His pastoral life is suddenly a life of acute disgust. He goes beserk, talks to himself, is in a state of panic, constantly questioning his entire existence, and wondering how things could go so wrong. There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer, other than the pastoral life has become one of inner and outer turmoil, condemnation and disgust.

How Swede handles the repercussions of Merry’s devious deed is brought to the forefront through Philip Roth’s brilliant writing, his insight into the human mind and emotions, and through his emotional intelligence. His word imagery is filled with clarity, and vibrancy. American Pastoral is definitely a masterpiece, in my opinion, written by a master. I highly recommend American Pastoral to everyone.

~~Book Diva

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