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Nazneen is born in Bangladesh, the eldest of two sisters, and from the very first page we learn that she is taught to leave things to fate. So when at the age of sixteen her father arranges for her to marry a man over twice her age and move to London to be with her husband, Nazneen accepts it and does what is required. The book covers her life in London from when she moves there in the 1980s, up until the early 2000s. Initially Nazneen cannot speak more than a couple of words of English and so relies on her husband for everything – but it becomes clear that while her husband Chanu is not cruel, he is a pathetic and ineffectual man with big dream and small achievements. He is always just on the verge of something – a new business, a great promotion – but it never actually materialises.

Nazneen forges some friendships, most notably with a lady named Razia, and as she learns to cope in this new country, she also finds strength within herself and ends up falling in love with a young radical, who is at least as unsuitable for her as her husband, if not more so.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it took me a while to read it – but I think it is a book that deserves time and attention. Ali is so observant and so wonderfully descriptive that you really feel immersed in Nazneen’s world, although I could never begin to imagine what her life must feel like. But any reader will certainly recognise the relationships and social politics at work, and the interplay between characters. The book opened my eyes to an immigrant’s experience, and certainly the description of life after September 11th was eye opening, with many people viewing all Muslims with suspicion and hatred. Another surprise was the humour which Ali employs in her descriptions. She has a remarkably funny turn of phrase which made me smile often throughout the story, even when the events described were not funny at all.

A fair part of the book was taken up with letters from Nazneen’s younger sister Hasina, still in Bangladesh, who disgraced her family at a young age by running away to get married to man she chose rather than one who was chosen for her. The marriage didn’t work, but the letters make it clear that Hasina, unlike Nazneen, refused to leave her life to fate and wanted to make her own choices instead, for better or for worse.

I loved the ending of this book – I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I do feel it gave hope for Nazneen’s future. Overall, I would say that while this was the first book I have read by this author, it certainly will not be the last.

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