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Friday, 17 May 2013

Book Review: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

The Newlyweds is a truly modern romance. It tells the story of Amina, a Bangladeshi who has met an American online and moved abroad to marry him. George is a decent man, everything she and her parents have been hoping for and Amina's intention is for her parents to finally come and live with them after she has passed her citizenship test. However, she finds it difficult to acclimatise herself to America and she discovers that George has been keeping something fairly important from her. However, she hasn't been entirely honest with him, as she realises when she returns to Bangladesh.

On one level, this book is difficult to read because of all the time it spends meandering back and forth between Amina's life now in America and her youth in Bangladesh. However, because the two locations are so different, it's easy to follow. Amina's recollections usually have a basis in what she's going through at the time so, in that sense, it's a perfectly logical book.

The descriptions of Bangladesh are one of the most outstanding aspects of the book. The humidity and the community seep from the page, making it both interesting and oddly stifling, even for the reader. Amina's location in-between cultures means that she is able to note the bizarre in both Bangladesh and America, understanding the differences and criticising them both fairly equally.

The Newlyweds certainly contains humour but I found that after reading it was the more serious scenes that lingered with me, including one - ridiculously - that we find was made up by another character. Freudenberger deals with the issues facing couples the world over including the recession, family divisions and the complexity of married life. Amina's ethnicity is thrown into this mix, creating new obstacles that aren't immediately discernible but eventually make their presence known. One of the events which make up the finale is beautifully foreshadowed throughout the novel and it is the scenes stemming from this horrible event which impacted me most forcefully.

Amina is an excellent character to follow, particularly during her return to Bangladesh. In addition, Freudenberger throws in some clever red herrings throughout meaning that the actual progression of the plot remained a mystery to me. It was a pleasure to read a book that surprised me but still made sense in terms of characterisation. If I had one criticism it was that I wanted more from these characters. I feel like she stopped as one story was ending, yes, but as a whole other one was beginning. I suppose that's the mark of a good book - one that leaves you wishing there was more.

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