Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

Nell Freudenberger

I read this for our March book club selection and the general consensus last Monday at our meeting was that it was solid but not great and yet our conversation was very animated.  We had definite opinions coming into the discussion about what we liked and disliked and it made for a rousing night of sharing.

We agreed that we all loved that Ms. Freudenberger based this novel on a chance encounter in an airplane with a woman named Farah.  This made the story stand out to us for it's validity.  While it is fiction it is not just the author's imaginary ideas of what it would be like for a woman to travel so far for love; she has a first hand account of what that was truly like.  


In The Newlyweds, we follow the story of Amina Mazid, who at age twenty-four moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York, for love. A hundred years ago, Amina would have been called a mail-order bride. But this is an arranged marriage for the twenty-first century: Amina is wooed by—and woos—George Stillman online.
For Amina, George offers a chance for a new life and a different kind of happiness than she might find back home. For George, Amina is a woman who doesn’t play games. But each of them is hiding something: someone from the past they thought they could leave behind. It is only when they put an ocean between them—and Amina returns to Bangladesh—that she and George find out if their secrets will tear them apart, or if they can build a future together.
The Newlyweds is a surprising, suspenseful story about the exhilarations—and real-life complications—of getting, and staying, married. It stretches across continents, generations, and plains of emotion. What has always set Nell Freudenberger apart is the sly, gimlet eye she turns on collisions of all kinds—sexual, cultural, familial. With The Newlyweds, she has found her perfect subject for that vision, and characters to match. She reveals Amina’s heart and mind, capturing both her new American reality and the home she cannot forget, with seamless authenticity, empathy, and grace. At once revelatory and affecting, The Newlyweds is a stunning achievement. (Goodreads)
It is a "stunning achievement" because I learned so much about Bangladesh and how difficult it would be to arrive here in the U.S. with very little background knowledge of our daily life.  Just getting a job would be a huge hurdle.  
Our book club conversation focused a lot on characters and the decisions they made.  We were amazed at Amina's bravery to arrive here with very little skills.  Many immigrants choose to arrive here through a school visa and thus have school as their focus where Amina comes solely for George.  George, many of us thought, was a little boring and not all that helpful to Amina.  One older member of our group and the woman who recommended this book loved George and thought he was a perfect match for Amina.  The rest of us thought he was lazy (not job wise but relationship wise) as he wanted everything to come easy and his way. He didn't push to become a Muslim as he had promised which would have helped Amina keep her promise to her mother.  This, to us, was a major mistake but I guess a typical marital issue.  Would a man every really go out of his way to do something he promised to do if it wasn't something he would choose to do in the first place?  Of course the answer is some men would but George wasn't written to be a unique individual.  Even his reasons for choosing an online Asia dating service is because he wants a woman who won't play games.  The question is did he get his wish with Amina?
Many of us enjoyed Amina's return trip back to Bangladesh.  While she is there she feels out of place and nervous about events that normally would not have bothered her.  She does meet up with Nasir, the son of her father's best friend, and their friendship is rekindled.  Perhaps Nasir and Amina had at one time been matched together but Nasir left for London and soon after Amina started her initial online conversations with George. Her and Nasir still have an emotional connection though and she is happy with how much he has helped her parents.

Random Quote:

"Amina knew she was a different person in Bangla than she was in English; she noticed the change every time she switched languages on the phone.  She was older in English, and also less fastidious; she was the parent to her parents.  In Bangla, of course, they were still the parents, and she let them fuss over her, asking whether she was maintaining her weight, and if she'd been able to find her Horlicks in America." (105)

This story has many different layers and it does shine a critical look at the complexity of marriage and relationships.  I'm happy to have read it~I just wish I felt more comfortable with Amina's choices especially as she travels back to America with her parents.  
Read this great interview of Nell @HuffingtonPost.  
And Polly's review at SF Gate.

I'd like to read more by this author~


Peppermint Ph.D. said...

This actually sounds pretty interesting...I think men seem to think they know what they want and then don't know what to do with it once they get it, so George's character might be pretty true to form for me :p I would also love the idea of "code switching" (Amina having to switch back and forth not just with language but culture, etc.) Enjoyed your review! :)

Rummanah Aasi said...

I read this one a while ago and while I thought Amina's character was interesting, George drove me nuts. I hated his rigid ways to do things. I felt the book dragged at points and rushed to reveal all the dark secrets in the end. I guess I was hoping for more self-searching.