bigWOWO rating: Literary Fiction Gold
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger is about a Bangladeshi woman named Amina Mazid who meets a White American guy on an online dating site and decides to marry him as a means of getting her family out of Bangladesh. I thought it was relevant given our discussion of a real-life version of such an arrangement. The novel examines her conflicted feelings of love, immigration, and class. Her story is further complicated by a female cousin-in-law who is obsessed with India, along with a childhood crush on a Bangladeshi man for whom she still has feelings.
I really liked this book. The reviews on Amazon were mixed. Some people were upset that even though it was called, “The Newlyweds,” the author spends little time on developing the White guy George Stillman, who is portrayed mostly as a pathetic, boring-but-nice guy. Some felt that the book wasn’t literary enough. Some thought it dragged on at times.
I can see and understand all these complaints, but I also think that there was more to like than dislike. So far, I’ve read novels from four out of last year’s New Yorker 20 under 40, and while some of the other writers may have (or may not have) written recent novels that are more “literary,” Nell Freudenberger clearly knows how to carry a story. It was really hard to put down this book. I was also impressed by how Freudenberger, a White American woman, was able to cross nationality and race to describe a Bangladeshi immigrant which, according to what I’ve read, she was able to do with research helped by a real-life Deshi woman who was marrying a White American guy from the internet. Particularly impressive was how she weaved the network of relationships–father, mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins–that Amina deals with as she returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents to the U.S.
I’m curious as to what South Asian readers thought of this book. Sometimes there’s a question of authenticity, and I’m not South Asian, but this one seemed pretty on-point to me. I was especially surprised in the second part of the book when she returns to Bangladesh and there is no focus at all on the White characters. It was like a complete reversal from what we usually see in Asian American media.