Monica Ali tells the stories of two sisters, Nazneen and Hassina, both born and raised in a Bangladeshi village yet separated by fate to lead completely disparate lives.
Nazneen is pronounced still-born at birth yet when she miraculously chokes into life moments later her family takes it as a sign that she must be left to her own destiny. In this way she passes much of her childhood until one day Hassina decides to take fate into her own hands and elope, unwittingly leaving behind a turmoil of reactions that lead to Nazneen's marriage and consequent removal to a suffocating council estate in East London. Thus the sisters begin their parallel existences spurred by the empty hope that one day they will meet again.
Still in her teens, Nazneen finds herself sharing life with a man in his late 40's, slipping into a routine of keeping house alternated with the grimmer tasks of cutting his corns and trimming his nasal hair. Essentially lacking the confidence and the language skills to venture very far out of doors, she gains small pleasures from watching television and observing her neighbours on their balconies. She finds herself avidly drawn to ice skating (which she pronounces 'ice e-skating') and while she watches the figures glide across the screen she is able to lose herself entirely to her dreams.
Thus she passes fifteen or so years of her life, by which time she has amounted two children, a small number of friends on the estate, a few phrases of English, several worrying letters from Hassina and the courage to navigate her way round the East End.
All in all she seems quite comfortable, having learnt to contend with her husband's petulance, yet again her fate overrides. Someone is thrown into her life who gives her an insight into knowledge and experiences she has never known and which help her to find herself and make crucial decisions in her life.
Ali takes her readers right into the heart of East London so they can almost picture the warren of council estates that link the members of this close-knit community. What is interesting is how the 90's creep up on you without realisation; the book incorporates events such as September 11th and gives a very personal perspective of the implications it has on the residents. However, the reader may be inclined to question how convinced they are of the plausibility of Ali's plot and some of her writing styles.
Brick Lane, Monica Ali.
Published by Transworld, ISBN 038560484X.