I’m on the fence about this book. I liked the story it told, that of an obedient Bangladeshi wife discovering herself and what she, and not her husband or male family, wanted. There were aspects of it that I didn’t like, though.
I definitely disliked the grammatically incorrect letters that Hasina, Nazneem’s sister, sent her. I liked and was interested in Hasina, as she comes across as very strong despite her many setbacks in life, but did her letters really have to be so grating? It made her sound provincial, which may have been the point, but I don’t think much would have been lost if they could have been written in plain English like the rest of the book. Perhaps this is a flaw only I could balk at, since I can’t stand so many errors in one place, but I genuinely was irritated, especially when there was an entire chapter of them.
Monica Ali liberally sprinkles the book with symbolism. Everything means something. I can’t say whether this is good or bad, only that I did get tired of having to work out what everything meant just to understand the impact of the book. I suppose it depends what kind of reader you are. If I was to study this book, I could write essays on it and I’m sure I’d appreciate it much more if I analyzed it to the hilt, but that doesn’t make it pleasurable, precisely. I think this may be part of the reason the book has been universally lauded.
I also am not a huge fan of Ali’s writing. I can’t pinpoint where this bothered me, but it felt sloppy at times, hard to follow, in other words, not suitably absorbing or moving. Particularly when the love affair came along. I knew that she did not love him, and that he did not love her. It just felt wrong for them to be together, not at all the way that Nazneen was describing. I felt that their affair was unrealistic.
I did enjoy the peeks into Islam. I’ve forgotten what little I ever learned, and I really liked learning a bit more. I’m inspired to read further.
Take this review with a grain of salt; I am not a Muslim, I do not understand the attitudes and feelings of Muslim women. I can only speak of how I feel as a woman in general, and try to understand from that perspective. Nazneen becomes an admirable woman in the end, and for that her transformation is real and endearing, which is the true reason this book should be praised.