Brick lane, p.1
Table of Contents
About the Author
Acclaim for Brick Lane
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She is one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists of the decade, Newcomer of the Year at the 2004 British Book Awards and has been nominated for most of the major literary prizes in Britain. Brick Lane was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the George Orwell Prize for political writing and the prestigious Commonwealth Writers' Prize. It has been translated into 26 languages.
Internationally there has been similar recognition including, in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times 'First Fiction' Prize where the book was shortlisted.
Monica Ali lives in London with her husband and two children, and is working on her next novel.
Acclaim for Brick Lane:
'Monica Ali has aroused high expectations for her debut novel – and they are not disappointed . . . Ali's book is a shining example of the rule that a writer should "show" rather than "tell". Her strength lies in minute observations. By delineating, with wit and gentle irony, her characters' physical quirks, habits, clothes or voices, she brings them alive . . . Brick Lane is a wonderful debut' Sunday Telegraph
'Brick Lane is as crisp and urgent as a headline . . . But the true pleasure of this wonderful novel comes from its timeless sense of wonder and affection for the haplessness of human nature' Boston Globe
'The joy of this book is its marriage of a wonderful writer with a fresh, rich and hidden world. Her achievement is huge. She has made Brick Lane one of those all-encompassing reads that you put down reluctantly and rush back to as soon as you can. And all this rich observation of life is unfolded by a writer with a gorgeous and fertile gift for simile . . . there are no dull patches, no cut corners, no clichés in Monica Ali's writing' Evening Standard
'Splendid . . . Daring . . . Brilliant . . . Refreshing . . . Intensely gripping and involving . . . The power of Ali's book is the way in which it charts its heroine's slow accumulation of English, her gathering confidence as a mother and a wife, and the undulations of her marriage to a man whom she eventually learns to respect and perhaps even to love . . . Brick Lane is a great achievement of the subtlest storytelling' The New Republic
'The heart of the novel, and its most assured achievement, is Nazneen herself. Ali portrays her journey from submissive teenager to hesitantly independent mother with poetic intelligence . . . that Ali does this not with stylistic fireworks but with measured, exact prose, only makes her success more commendable' The Times Literary Supplement
'A genuinely moving portrait. . . Brick Lane manages to do many of the things that fiction does best' Washington Post Book World
'Monica Ali is a fabulous writer, and Brick Lane is finely observed, deeply compassionate, wry and tender' Meera Syal
'Virtuosic . . . at once sophisticated and innocent, compassionate and entertaining' Los Angeles Times
'A very special novel – I adored it. It gave me everything I crave in a novel, taking me into a life and culture I know so little about. . .entertaining, moving and fascinating' Margaret Forster
'Ali's novel is warm, shrewd, startling and hugely readable: the sort of book you race through greedily, dreading the last page . . . The themes are the big ones – identity, self-determination, the freight of family – and they are kept afloat by the buoyancy of Ali's characterisation, which occasionally verges on the Dickensian without every resorting to caricature. In Nazneen's world, everyone is convincingly governed by their own individual logic. Throughout, one is struck by Ali's ability to shift gracefully from comedy to tragedy and back again' Observer
'Ali writes with a mixture of passion and restraint that is totally exhilarating' India Today
'Entertaining and full of insight . . . talented, thoughtful and mature' Hilary Mantel
'Ali's ability to layer her narrative with ambiguities marks her as a major novelist' Sydney Morning Herald
'Monica Ali's first novel, Brick Lane, exposes a hidden world and allows the reader a detailed and fascinating glimpse into British Bengali culture. Ian Jack noted, when he explained why the Granta panel had included Ali in their list of the 20 most promising young British novelists, that her prose brings us "news" about contemporary Britain in a way that only fiction can. I certainly feel more informed about the people who are my next-door neighbours that I did before I read this book' New Statesman
'A novel that not only justifies the hype but effortlessly opens up a new and potentially rich seam in mainstream British fiction' The Scotsman
'A rich, panoramic sweep of a novel centred on the often harsh, sometimes unexpected and always compelling experiences of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi village girl sent to East London in an arranged marriage, Brick Lane is beautifully conceived and wrought. Its emotionally literate story-telling is leavened with wry humour and informed by a politicised consciousness' Metro
'Ali has an impressive command of her story, but her real gift is in the richness of the lives she has created, populating Nazneen's London with a very entertaining cast of comic characters. Her main target is pride, from Mrs Islam, a pompous but corrupt meddler, to Karim, a militant Islamic youth and adulterer, and, most of all, Chanu, whose self-delusion is made laughable but also sickening. Ali skewers presumption and prejudice at every turn' The Times
'A début novel full of confidence and stylistic zip that announces a significant new voice in contemporary fiction . . . Brick Lane invites the reader into a perfectly invented world and holds them there' Sunday Herald
'Vibrant, innovative and amazingly assured. A respect for fate instilled by her mother means Nazneen must accept passively whatever life brings. As the least dynamic character in the novel, she becomes a tool for the author's powers of observation – and these are magnificent, placing Ali among Britain's greatest writers, never mind young or old' The Spectator
'What's so remarkable about Brick Lane is its assurance: the writing is laudably unfussy, the tone incredibly tender' Time Out
'Monica Ali was a name to watch before this, her debut novel, was published thanks to her inclusion in the Granta list of best young British novelists. Brick Lane – the story of a Bangladeshi woman stuck in the East End in an unhappy arranged marriage – will get a lot of attention. Deservedly so' Vogue
'Ali writes with the same raw power as Vikram Seth and Salman Rushdie . . . her story is a potent mix of bleak fortitude, conflicting cultures and wonderful lyrical passages. Highly recommended' Marie Claire
'The book fulfils all expectations. Ali is a consummate storyteller and has that rare ability to draw the reader into what is, for most, an unfamiliar world' Good Housekeeping
'Ali's well-rounded character, pithy observations and superb writing make fantastic entertainment' Woman & Home
'Beautifully written and refreshingly different' Company
'Brick Lane is deeply rewarding . . . a popular success fueled by a critical one . . . One feels the enabling weight of the 19th century, of a history of novels about people cut off from their origins, adrift in Europe's great cities . . . Monica Ali has an inborn generosity that cannot be learned' New York Times Book Review
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A BLACK SWAN BOOK :
Originally published in Great Britain by Doubleday,
a division of Transworld Publishers
Doubleday edition published 2003
Black Swan edition published 2004
Copyright © Monica Ali 2003
Lines from the 'Song of Students' are quoted from Bangladesh: Reflections on the Water by James J. Novak, translated by Mizanur Rahman [Indiana University Press, 1993). Extracts from Baul songs are taken from The Mirror of the Sky: Songs of the Bauls of Bengal, translated by Deben Bhattacharya (Hohm Press, 1999). Lines from 'The Golden Boat' are quoted from Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems, translated by William Radice (Penguin, 1985) Copyright © William Radice, 1985. Extracts from The Koran are translated by N. J. Dawood (Penguin Classics, 1956, fifth revised edition 1990) Copyright © N. J. Dawood, 1956, 1959, 1966, 1968, 1974, 1990. 'Shout': Words and Music by O'Kelly Isley, Ronald Isley and Rudolph Isley © Copyright 1959 and 1962 EMI Longitude Music, USA. EMI Music Publishing (WP) Limited, 127 Charing Cross Road, London WC2. Used by permission of Music Sales Ltd. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. The publishers have made every effort to contact the copyright owners of all the extracts reproduced in this book. In the few cases where they have been unsuccessful they invite copyright holders to contact them direct.
The right of Monica Ali to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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For Abba, with love
'Sternly, remorselessly, fate guides each of us; only at the beginning, when we're absorbed in details, in all sorts of nonsense, in ourselves, are we unaware of its harsh hand.'
'A man's character is his fate.'
MYMENSINGH DISTRICT, EAST PAKISTAN, 1967
An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen's life began – began as it would proceed for quite some time, that is to say uncertainly – her mother Rupban felt an iron fist squeeze her belly. Rupban squatted on a low three–legged stool outside the kitchen hut. She was plucking a chicken because Hamid's cousins had arrived from Jessore and there would be a feast. 'Cheepy-cheepy, you are old and stringy,' she said, calling the bird by name as she always did, 'but I would like to eat you, indigestion or no indigestion. And tomorrow I will have only boiled rice, no parathas.'
She pulled some more feathers and watched them float around her toes. 'Aaah,' she said. 'Aaaah. Aaaah.' Things occurred to her. For seven months she had been ripening, like a mango on a tree. Only seven months. She put those things that had occurred to her aside. For a while, an hour and a half, though she did not know it, until the men came in from the fields trailing dust and slapping their stomachs, Rupban clutched Cheepy-cheepy's limp and bony neck and said only coming, coming to all enquiries about the bird. The shadows of the children playing marbles and thumping each other grew long and spiky. The scent of fried cumin and cardamom drifted over the compound. The goats bleated high and thin. Rupban screamed white heat, red blood.
Hamid ran from the latrine, although his business was unfinished. He ran across the vegetable plot, past the towers of rice stalk taller than the tallest building, over the dirt track that bounded the village, back to the compound and grabbed a club to kill the man who was killing his wife. He knew it was her. Who else could break glass with one screech? Rupban was in the sleeping quarters. The bed was unrolled, though she was still standing. With one hand she held Mumtaz's shoulder, with the other a half-plucked chicken.
Mumtaz waved Hamid away. 'Go. Get Banesa. Are you waiting for a rickshaw? Go on, use your legs.'
Banesa picked up Nazneen by an ankle and blew disparagingly through her gums over the tiny blue body. 'She will not take even one breath. Some people, who think too much about how to save a few takas, do not call a midwife.' She shook her hairless, wrinkled head. Banesa claimed to be one hundred and twenty years old, and had made this claim consistently for the past decade or so. Since no one in the village remembered her birth, and since Banesa was more desiccated than an old coconut, no one cared to dispute it. She claimed, too, one thousand babies of which only three were cripples, two were mutants (a hermaphrodite and a humpback), one a stillbirth and another a monkey-lizard-hybrid-sin-against-God-that-was-buried-alive-in-the-faraway-forest-and-the-mother-sent -hence-to-who-cares-where. Nazneen, though dead, could not be counted among these failures, having been born shortly before Banesa creaked inside the hut.
'See your daughter,' Banesa said to Rupban. 'Perfect everywhere. All she lacked was someone to ease her path to this world.' She looked at Cheepy-cheepy lying next to the bereaved mother and hollowed her cheeks; a hungry look widened her eyes slightly although they were practically buried in crinkles. It was many months since she had tasted meat, now that two young girls (she should have strangled them at birth) had set up in competition.
'Let me wash and dress her for the burial,' said Banesa. 'Of course I offer my service free. Maybe just that chicken there for my trouble. I see it is old and stringy.'
'Let me hold her,' said Nazneen's aunt, Mumtaz, who was crying.
'I thought it was indigestion,' said Rupban, also beginning to cry.
Mumtaz took hold of Nazneen, who was still dangling by the ankle, and felt the small, slick torso slide through her fingers to plop with a yowl onto the bloodstained mattress. A yowl! A cry! Rupb
Banesa made little explosions with her lips. She used the corner of her yellowing sari to wipe some spittle from her chin. 'This is called a death rattle,' she explained. The three women put their faces close to the child. Nazneen flailed her arms and yelled, as if she could see this terrifying sight. She began to lose the blueness and turned slowly to brown and purple. 'God has called her back to earth,' said Banesa, with a look of disgust.
Mumtaz, who was beginning to doubt Banesa's original diagnosis, said, 'Well, didn't He just send her to us a few minutes ago? Do you think He changes His mind every second?'
Banesa mumbled beneath her breath. She put her hand over Nazneen's chest, her twisted fingers like the roots of an old tree that had worked their way above ground. 'The baby lives but she is weak. There are two routes you can follow,' she said, addressing herself solely to Rupban. 'Take her to the city, to a hospital. They will put wires on her and give medicines. This is very expensive. You will have to sell your jewellery. Or you can just see what Fate will do.' She turned a little to Mumtaz to include her now, and then back to Rupban. 'Of course, Fate will decide everything in the end, whatever route you follow.'
'We will take her to the city,' said Mumtaz, red patches of defiance rising on her cheeks.
But Rupban, who could not stop crying, held her daughter to her breast and shook her head. 'No,' she said, 'we must not stand in the way of Fate. Whatever happens, I accept it. And my child must not waste any energy fighting against Fate. That way, she will be stronger.'
'Good, then it is settled,' said Banesa. She hovered for a moment or two because she was hungry enough, almost, to eat the baby but after a look from Mumtaz she shuffled away back to her hovel.
Hamid came to look at Nazneen. She was wrapped in cheesecloth and laid on an old jute sack on top of the bedroll. Her eyes were closed and puffed as though she had taken two hard punches.