- I enjoyed reading it from cover to cover. Ali’s building of characters, their inner voices, and conflict resolution are unique.
After reading “The Golden House” by Salman Rushdie and dwelling on nostalgic and scandalous stories of 1960s Bombay and New York before 2016, I came across evocative books by Monica Ali.
Born of a Bangladeshi father and English Mother, Ali’s writing spans cultural and political issues. Her latest novel is “Love Marriage” and it is being adapted into a film. I enjoyed reading it from cover to cover. Ali’s building of characters, their inner voices, and conflict resolution are unique, so, once I finished “Love Marriage,” I immediately went back and read her first book “Brick Lane” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was named the best book of the year by The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic in 2007.
I enjoyed following the story of Nazneen, a 17-year-old girl who is married to a pompous pot-bellied lover of English literature Chanu, who brings his bride to “Brick Lane” in London but is never quite able to integrate into British society. Nazneen on the other hand transforms into a saree-clad village girl who cuts her husband’s corn, shaves his nose hair and breathes the air he exhales into an independent mother of two girls Shahana and Bibi.
Not only does she supports herself by adding zippers to jeans, she fends off Mrs. Islam “the local loan shark”, and stays in touch with her beautiful but unfortunate sister Hasina who sends her laborious letters (much like the sisters from Chitra Divakaruni’s book, “Independence”), but she discovers her own sexuality by having an affair with Karim whose shirts smell of lemons.
The plot of “Love Marriage” is set in London where “Yasmin Ghorami, a 26-six-year-old doctor (like her Indian-born father) and is engaged to the charismatic, polished, kind white Joe Sangster who lives with his liberal, feminist socialite mother Harriet Sangster.
The young docs are engaged and both sets of parents approve of the marriage. Yasmin is under a lot of anxiety about the “parents’ first meeting because of the obvious cultural and social disparities between the families. The book has sexual undertones and the characters are layered, complicated, and flawed is revealed in the first chapter with “a telling” photograph of Ms. Sangster on the internet but despite the shocking revelation, the Ghorami family pile into their Fiat Multipla with a tower of Bengali food packed in Tupperware containers.
Yasmin is embarrassed by her frumpy parents in Harriet’s elegant townhouse. But Anisah, Yasmin’s mother is embraced by Harriet despite her faux pas and mismatched attire, much to Yasmin’s surprise. She is disgruntled that Harriet suggests a Muslim wedding and Anisah nods her approval. Yasmin is fretting over Harriet’s meddling but a scandal breaks at work that derails the lovers’ utopia. Meanwhile, at her parents’ home, her wayward brother Arif gets into an argument with his dad. Not only is he unemployed, but also has a baby out of wedlock on its way.
Dr. Ghorami rejects his son’s lifestyle. Yasmin’s domesticated mother makes a bold move and packs her things and leaves her house to shack up with Mrs. Sangster. Yasmin gets sexually involved at work but is disillusioned by the state of geriatric care in England and wants to quit medicine.
Her father “baba ” strays from solving medical puzzles at home to drinking heavily. Joe is seeing a therapist seemingly about being abandoned by his father.
Monica Ali in her brilliant prose exposes closely guarded secrets and in doing so reveals how her characters mask their pain by improvising and acting out. People hide three things: “The amount of money they make, their loneliness and their sexuality.”
The book rips apart the “love story” Yasmin’s parents have concocted about a poor but hardworking boy falling in love at first sight with a rich girl in a red saree at a library. But for both Joe and Yasmin to transform, to come out of their comfort zones of “colored shoelaces for Joe” and “pastel dresses for Yasmin” there has to be the washing of all “the dirty laundry” in public.
Eventually in the mess, dirt, and dust, in the messy alchemy of love, labor of medicine, life and good intentions, the Ghorami family comes together. Dr. Ghorami solves the most important medical mystery. Yasmin studies to take her boards. Joe moves to Edinburgh but stays in touch with her. They heal slowly from the Oedipus and Electra complexes. Yasmin’s morning is ‘good’ again. Ali handles the emotions of her characters with genuine compassion.
Ali’s prose is provocative. Her descriptions are insightful and unusual. She elaborates hilariously about Chanu nursing and manipulating his eyes, mouth and belly while reading and using his daughters as “page-turners,” while Yasmin does not think twice but to mix the drop of blood from her mother Anisah’s cut finger into the mango lassi and carry the tray to the neighbor’s house! Both female protagonists in “Brick Lane” and “Love Marriage” listen to the stories told by their mothers and they are intertwined by the rice, dal, cumin, coriander, cloves and bay leaves of their motherland.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.