Friday, August 15, 2008
A Bangladeshi Color Purple
I just finished reading Monica Ali's award-winning book, Brick Lane. It is the story of a Bangladeshi woman, Nazneen, who is married off to a man twice her age and sent to live with him in his new home in London. Nazneen is 18 when she arrives in England to be the wife of a stranger and is in her mid 30s by book's end. The story is a classic immigrant assimilation tale, but it also breaks new ground in that Nazneen does not remain oppressed by her fate as a female, as an immigrant, or as a Muslim woman, but rather, over the years she discovers her own power and ability to chart her own course in life.
It's a really great story, full of suspense, romance, food and cultural collisions all around. I learned a lot about Bangladeshi culture because not only is the story about Nazneen and her struggle to adapt to English life, but there is a parallel story told about her sister Hasina who stays in Bangladesh on a quest for "romantic love." In the book, Hasina's story is mainly told through letters to Nazneen.
Now I'm not taking anything away from Monica Ali when I say this, but midway through the book, I'm thinking something about this story feels hauntingly familiar. Girl married off to older, unpleasant man. She looses touch with her beloved sister. They find each other again and get reaquainted through letters. Slowly but surely Nazneen finds her own inner strength and sexuality...Yes, I'm going to say it. Brick Lane reads like a Bangladeshi Color Purple. Anybody else out there agree? Please note, I'm not saying this to suggest Ali copied Alice Walker's seminal text, but rather to highlight the similarities in life experiences between a Black girl from the American south and a Bangladeshi bride transported to the projects of London, England. It just shows how similar and connected our human stories are in this great, big, juicy Meltingpot.
p.s. Reviews for the movie of Brick Lane, not so good. So do yourself a favor and read the book. And then book a trip to London and visit the real Brick Lane. It's now on my list of must-sees.