Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Published May 2012 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Read by Mozhan Marno
Source: purchased audiobook at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
Of The Newlyweds Ann Patchett said "Every minute I was away from this book I was longing to be back in the world she created." You all well know how I feel about Ann Patchett; when I grow up, I want to be Ann Patchett. So I feel like I missed something in this book when I say that I have very mixed feelings about it.

What I Liked:
Mozhan Marno's reading: Although she is American-born she perfectly captures the accents and speech patterns (well, at least I think she does - it sounded great to me) and manages quite a number of characters, each with a distinct voice.

Learning more about Bangladesh and it's culture: Four years ago, I read and very much enjoyed Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age about Bangladesh's war for independence from Pakistan. I referenced there the Concert for Bangladesh (George Harrison's and Ravi Shankar's first ever benefit concert). I got a kick, here, of hearing a character refer to that concert when he joked that he had been to Bangladesh, anyway to the Concert for Bangladesh. Like that character, that concert was my first awareness of this country and its very complicated history. Set where it is, much of the culture is similar to that of India and Pakistan. But for the Mazid family, their Islamic religion and village home add an entirely new layer to my understanding of the region. A good part of the book is set in Bangladesh which allowed me to learn about life for villagers, life in the city, and the complications when long traditions run into modern ways.

The way Freudenberger wealth with the Muslim religion: This book is set post-9/11 so Amina's Muslim religion plays a role in her relationship with George, what her family expects of her, and comes into play in the story of another character. But it never hijacks the story; it simply serves as another way to demonstrate the difficulties that relationships such as George's and Amina's face.

Seeing marriage through these characters' eyes: The publisher's summary says that Amina moved to America for love. But she didn't, not really. Their relationship begins more as a way to heal from other relationships but it's not like the usual rebound love kind of story. Amina likes George well enough but it's more about the opportunity to make a better life for her parents. And George likes Amina well enough. But because of the way that they met, because of the secrets that they are both keeping, and because of their very different backgrounds, there are well more than the usual number of adjustments that have to be made. Mostly by Amina who necessarily has to adjust to living in another country.

What I Didn't Like:
George's cousin: Kim plays a big role in the story but I just didn't care for her and couldn't understand the attraction that any of the characters had for her.

George, for that matter: Seriously, this guy seems like he's trying to be accommodating but he really doesn't make any changes in his life other than the occasional ride for Amina and learning to enjoy her cooking. How, I wondered, had he given the impression that he was someone she could learn to love and spend the rest of her life with?

Too much thinking: Sometimes it felt like we were spending much too much time in Amina's head, rehashing the same thoughts over and over.

I can't help but wonder, despite Marno's excellent reading, if I wouldn't have like this book more if I had read it rather than listened to it, if I had spent more than a couple of 25 minute blocks a day "reading" it.


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