The Newleyweds, by Nell Freudenberger

Review published on March 23, 2013.Reviewed by Susan Osborne

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Nell Freudenberger’s accomplished novel has its feet firmly planted in the same territory as Jhumpa Lahiris’s The Namesake and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. It tells the story of Amina, a young Bangladeshi woman determined to build a life for herself, despite the constrictions of her culture and religion, and to help her parents out of their poverty. She meets George, an American engineer, online at AsianEuro.com and after a slightly rocky start the couple decide to marry. Amina begins her new life in America bent on success but not quite prepared for all that it entails.

It might seem a little presumptuous for a white American to write a novel from the point of view of a Bangladeshi woman who meets her husband via a marriage website and travels to live with him in the States but Freudenberger manages to convince her readers, and convince them very well. She has explained that she was intrigued by her encounter with just such a couple on a plane to Rochester, the main location for her novel, and later became friends with Farah, travelling with her to her homeland. It must be the intimacy of this friendship that gives such a feeling of authenticity to The Newlyweds which captures the difficulties of transplanting oneself from one culture to another very different one beautifully. The disappointment of finding that not everything in the States is bright, clean and shiny, the misinterpretations of colloquialisms and social nuances, and the dislocation of being caught between two cultures, brought home painfully when Amina returns to Bangladesh to find that she is unused to both the privations and the social strictures that were part of daily life not so long ago, are all vividly drawn with wit and humour. There is an ambivalence in the marriage – both George and Amina have loved other people and perhaps still do – just as there is an ambivalence in the experience of migrating from one culture to another despite what might seem to be the obvious advantages. At the end of the book Freudenberger makes this poignantly clear as Amina contemplates what life will be like for her parents as they try to cope with a radically different way of life from the one they have been used to. This warmly affectionate novel is both absorbing and entertaining. It makes its readers think about what it must be like not quite to belong anywhere any more while telling the story of a couple, many of whose troubles seem all too familiar.

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