The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Published by Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 9780307268846
Hardcover, $25.95, 352 pages
I was drawn to this book because it was about a Bangladeshi woman who marries an American man and moves to Rochester, NY, and I'm originally from a city near there. The first reference to Wegmans grocery store in Pittsford made me smile wistfully. I enjoyed reading of Amina's journey from the only home she has known to marry a man she met on the Internet. She and her parents plan for Amina to marry, become an American citizen, and then bring them to live in America.
But George, Amina's husband, is not aware of these plans. He is an engineer, bought a home for Amina and himself, and wants to start a family. Their tentativeness in beginning a life together when they don't know each other very well is the most interesting part of the book. The story is told from Amina's point of view, so we don't get as much of George's side of things. He tries very hard to please to his wife, to make her feel welcome and loved, but he is a little rigid. We find that there is a secret he has been hiding, one that devastates Amina when she discovers it.
Watching Amina adjust to life in cold, snowy Rochester, trying to get a job, make friends and work towards her goal of bringing her parents over fascinated me. Freudenberger does a terrific job of putting the reader in Amina's shoes, of empathizing with her. You can actually feel her loneliness, and you root for her when she gets a job and goes to school. Like the immigrants who built this country, Amina desires to build a better life and is willing to work hard for it.
But Amina is not entirely noble, she has her flaws. When the story shifts to Bangladesh as Amina goes home to prepare to bring her parents back with her, we see a different side to her. She fears that something may go awry and her parents will be denied visas. After her discovery that George had lied to her about something important, she begins to question whether she belongs in America. She is attracted to a man from her past, and this confuses her. Her father is involved in a deal gone bad, and her mother is becoming somewhat erratic. Are her plans falling apart around her?
Freudenberger puts the reader in Amina's home country and reading about Bangladeshi traditions, foods, clothing and lifestyle intrigued me. Her writing and characters drew me into this engaging story of a marriage that leads to love.