“Brick Lane” by Monica Ali

muslim affair bookA fact that many do not know about me, nor usually believe once they find out, is that I am a total sucker for a love story, especially a complicated love story. So typically if I scan the words love, affair, complicated, passion, slut, adultery, or fate on the back cover, it’s a shoe-in for my library. Add in a best buy, only $5.95! sticker and I’m sold.

That is how I came to own Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

Because of my tendency to buy a ridiculous amount of books at one time, like many others paperbacks, this book sat unread for almost a year before it finally had it’s turn to be cupped in my hands for a few days. Ironically, I picked it up at the most perfect time.

The story is centered around Nazneen, a Muslim girl, who is put into an arranged marriage and taken from her Bangladeshi village to London to live with her new husband.  Eventually, she meets a man younger than her who is involved in radical politics named Karim and Nazneen and he begin having an affair. Obviously within the 415 pages, a number of other things occur but that is the main  premise of the story.

Why I managed to pick the perfect time to read this book is because I would start it just two days after I attended a lecture on the stigma of the burqa and the Muslim woman. A lecture about how the United States used it as a symbol for us to ‘free’ the Muslim woman from having to wear such a daunting outfit and fight a war to help them wear bikinis to the grocery store like we, North Americans do, when in actuality the women choose to wear the garments. Not only did I walk away from the talk looking at the burqa differently, but it gave me a fresh set of eyes to read a book centered on a Muslim woman’s life. If I had read it a week before, it probably would have been a completely different book.

That being said, at the conclusion of this book, the main thing I was pondering was not actually the complicated love story which I had hoped for, but rather fate. A great deal of Nazneen’s thoughts focused on this topic, generally regarding the two different paths that she and her sister had taken; Nazneen always following what is accepted by society (up until her affair, of course) and Hasnia, her sister, constantly making decisions that throw her on a roller coaster of ups and downs through life.

I don’t believe in fate. I never have. Every time a person has said to me “I found him because of fate!” or “it was meant to be!”, I can’t help but think in my mind hopefully one day, you grow out of this dilusional, bat-shit crazy mindset you have. To say that each person already has a path forged ahead of them throughout their life is about as logical to me as saying that the Earth is flat. More or less, I believe at some point, some great discoverer is going to crack a scientific code that proves once and for all that we’re all traveling this life on mere accidents and coincidences. (At that point, I will kick back and say I told you so…)

In Nazneen’s case, her belief in fate was so strong because it was rooted in religion, which I guess puts a different little spin on it. Of course one would believe in something if their religion told them it was so, and maybe that is why I do not believe in it, because I do not hold strong to any religion. However, her own questions are constantly challenged in that if one thing is fate, how could another thing not be? If one were to lead themselves into an affair, would it then not be an indicator of a bad person, but rather a person who was destined to be with the other person? If you cannot change your fate, then why even assume you make decisions, for every decision would be made for you and you would just be hitching a ride on that unreasonable endeavor that is destiny? If this were the case, then I could in fact never make a bad decision. There is some comfort in that. With every (fated) bad decision I made, I could hold my head high and say do not hate me for my immoral actions, hate fate!

It worried her that Hasina [Nazneen's sister] kicked against fate. No good could come of it. Not a single person could say so. But then, if you really looked into it, thought about it more deeply, how could you be sure that Hasina was not simply following her fate? If fate cannot be changed, no matter how you struggle against it, then perhaps Hasina was fated to run away with Malek. Maybe she struggled against that and that was what she could not alter. Oh, you think it would be simple, having made the decision long, long ago, to be at the beck and call of fate, but how to know which way it is calling you? And there is each and every day to be got through. If Chanu [Nanzeen's arranged husband] came home this evening and found the place untidy and the spices not even ground, could she put her hands like so and say, “Don’t ask me why nothing is prepared, it was not I who decided it, it was fate (pg. 10).”

Fate is not real. It is a crutch that people use as an explanation for things happening that they cannot explain nor understand: love, death, immoral actions, the Red Sox winning a World Series, heartbreak, wins and losses in all aspects of life, unhappiness, the Jersey Shore being such a popular choice as television entertainment. I’m willing to wager that behind most fated victories- he got the girl!, she was promoted!, the Yankees won the World series!, Jersey Shore was canceled!- there was a lot of hard work and dedication behind the end result, and just the same, decisions were made that lead a person to that “happy ending.”

When I finished this book, this is what I sat and thought about, and for this, I thank Monica Ali, because few books have me pondering such big life mysteries at the end.

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