Tag Archives: fiction

Book Review: The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

the-newlywedsIn light of the recent immigration ban, reading stories of those who have navigated across cultures to a new life in the United States seems even more important. Even when those stories appear in the novel you turn to when you need a break from the world.

Stories, like the one found in The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger, humanize the immigrant experience. The book follows Amina Mazid who leaves her home in Bangladesh for a new life in New York. While her story is not one of religious persecution or civil war, she is in search of happiness. A different happiness than what she can find in Bangladesh. The same happiness so many are seeking when they step onto American soil. But like the immigrants before (and after) her, Amina must carve out a space for herself amidst her American reality and the other happiness she knew before. A home she can never forget.

Amina Mazid is twenty-four when she 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 the twenty-first century: she is wooed by—and woos—George Stillman online.
 
For Amina, George offers a chance for a new life for her and her parents, as well as 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 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.

At it’s core, this book is a rather nuanced portrait of a young woman’s transition from one culture to another. This theme reminded me of another great book, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. And I think fan’s of Lahiri’s work will also find value in picking up a copy of The Newlyweds.

Freudenberger shows an immense depth of knowledge about Bangladesh, it’s culture, and Islam. The acknowledgements section of the book makes it clear that she did her research by way of extensive interviews and immersive travel to the country itself. (Even more amazing? This research, and the subsequent novel, was inspired by a Bangladeshi woman Freudenberger met on a plane! #talktostrangers)

However, there is a note of inauthenticity to the story, most notably the character of Amina herself. Freudenberger explains the duality that I’m sure many immigrants experience…

“[Amina] had thought that she’d been born with a soul whose thoughts were in no particular dialect, and she’d imagined that, when she married, her husband would be able to recognize this deep part of herself. Of course she hadn’t counted on her husband being a foreigner…In a way, George had created her American self, and so it made sense that it was the only one he would see.”

And perhaps it is this duality, which Freudenberger explains but hasn’t experienced, that makes Amina’s character lack just an inkling of depth. Because, at the end of the day, Amina’s husband George didn’t create her American self, the author did.

The story itself is captivating and full of suspense. It is an entertaining depiction of the effects of honesty (or lack thereof) on relationships and navigating cross-cultural experiences. Check it out! 

Have you read The Newlyweds? Would you? Let me know below!

P.S. Books to read if you love the Commonwealth and a book I could NOT put down.

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Books I Read and Loved in 2016

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As I explained in this post, I’ve been tracking my reading on a spreadsheet in an effort to diversify the genres and voices I consume, as well as quell my own curiosity about the ebbs and flows of my changing tastes and obsessions. The resulting data was interesting and I had fun recording lots of details for my future-self to cull through. (Full-disclosure: By the 4th quarter of the year I was much less thorough in my approach. Something to work on in 2017!)

For those of you who might be interested, I’ve used the aforementioned spreadsheet to compile a list of the books I read and loved in 2016.

  1. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (On the blog HERE.)
  2. Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman
  3. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – So gripping! (On the blog HERE.)
  4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – Better than the movie. (On the blog HERE.)
  5. Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward
  6. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo – A fascinating look at a society not often discussed. (On the blog HERE.)
  7. How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
  8. Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine (On the blog HERE.)
  9. The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler
  10. January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield
  11. Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home by Leah Lax – A triumphant memoir. (On the blog HERE.)
  12. A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (On the blog HERE.)
  13. Chef by Jaspreet Singh
  14. Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace – A cross between two of my favorite movies: A League of Their Own and Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. (On the blog HERE.)
  15. A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White
  16. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  17. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – Tears galore!
  18. The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein (On the blog HERE.)
  19. Crush It! Why NOW is the Time to Cash In On Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
  20. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson – A must-read if you enjoy true-crime and American history. (On the blog HERE.)
  21. Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
  22. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer – There just aren’t enough books about Himalayan mountaineering to satisfy my strange obsession.  (On the blog HERE.)
  23. The Book of Ayurveda by Judith H. Morrison
  24. The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet by Dara-Lynn Weiss
  25. Grace by Grace Coddington – Spirit animal.
  26. Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives by Hoda Kotb (On the blog HERE.)
  27. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – YA Fiction at it’s finest.
  28. Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee by Hoda Kotb – I was having a bit of a Hoda moment. 
  29. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi (On the blog HERE.)
  30. The Last Undercover: The True Story of an FBI Agent’s Dangerous Dance with Evil by Bob Hamer
  31. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I kicked off my mission to re-read the Little House books.
  32. About Alice by Calvin Trillin
  33. Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang – Hilarious!
  34. The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker
  35. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Now it’s time to set up my spreadsheet for 2017!

What books did YOU read and love in 2016? Share below…and who knows! Maybe they’ll end up on my list next year. 

If you liked Room by Emma Donaghue…

if you liked room read when we were romans

…I recommend you find yourself a copy of When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale. I just finished Kneale’s haunting psychological novel and, just like Room, couldn’t put it down the whole way through.

Both books are narrated by young boys; complete with grammatical errors, run-on sentences, and innocent outlooks on the dangerous world. Kneale’s narrator, Lawrence, is a nine year old boy who would do anything for his mother and little sister, Jemima. The family moves to Rome to escape an estranged father, a man Lawrence’s mother believes has been spying on them. But as their world grows increasingly closed off beyond the confines of their little family unit, you realize something isn’t quite right.

A lot of my friends loved Room and with the popular movie version, I figure a whole new audience is gaining an appreciation for Donoghue’s book. I thought it might be worth mentioning When We Were Romans as a fantastic follow-up read. (Of course, if you’ve never read either…then I recommend a trip to the library to grab ’em both!) Happy reading!

What have YOU been reading lately? Are you a novel person? Memoir? More of a non-fiction reader? Share below!