A powerful, funny, richly observed tour de force by one of America’s most acclaimed young writers: a story of love and marriage, secrets and betrayals, that takes us from the backyards of America to the back alleys and villages of Bangladesh.
In The Newlyweds, we follow the story of Amina Mazid, who at age twenty-four moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York, for love. A hundred years ago, Amina would have been called a mail-order bride. But this is an arranged marriage for the twenty-first century: Amina is wooed by—and woos—George Stillman online.
For Amina, George offers a chance for a new life and a different kind of happiness than she might find back home. For George, Amina is a woman who doesn’t play games. But each of them is hiding something: someone from the past they thought they could leave behind. It is only when they put an ocean between them—and Amina returns to Bangladesh—that she and George find out if their secrets will tear them apart, or if they can build a future together.
The Newlyweds is a surprising, suspenseful story about the exhilarations—and real-life complications—of getting, and staying, married. It stretches across continents, generations, and plains of emotion. What has always set Nell Freudenberger apart is the sly, gimlet eye she turns on collisions of all kinds—sexual, cultural, familial. With The Newlyweds, she has found her perfect subject for that vision, and characters to match. She reveals Amina’s heart and mind, capturing both her new American reality and the home she cannot forget, with seamless authenticity, empathy, and grace. At once revelatory and affecting, The Newlyweds is a stunning achievement.
About Nell Freudenberger
Nell Freudenberger is the author of the novel The Dissident and the story collection Lucky Girls, winner of the PEN/Malamud Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; both books were New York Times Book Review Notables. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship from the New York Public Library, she was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists and one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40.” She lives in Brooklyn with her family.
They met on AsianEuro.com: Amina wanted to escape from her family’s straitened circumstances in Bangladesh; George wanted someone who “did not play games, unlike some women he knew.” So here she is, in the fall of 2005 in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., recently married, working in retail while she studies for a teaching certificate. Her husband seems nice, if a little fussy, but he hasn’t said any more about converting to Islam as she promised her parents, and they haven’t had a Muslim wedding yet either. More disconcerting than any of that, though, is Amina’s sense that “she was a different person in Bangla than she was in English,” and she’s uncertain how to bridge the gulf between these two selves. She makes a much-needed friend in George’s cousin Kim, who lived for a while in Bombay and was briefly married to an Indian. Kim understands more about Amina’s background and her conflicts than anyone else in Rochester, so when it turns out that she and George have been hiding something important from Amina, it’s doubly shattering. However, it does prompt George to agree to bring Amina’s parents to America, and she goes to collect them in Bangladesh, where several old family conflicts flare anew. Freudenberger does well in capturing the off-kilter feelings of a young woman in a country so unlike her birthplace, and the cultural differences prompt some enjoyably wry humor. The characters are all well drawn, if a trifle pallid, which points to a larger problem. Freudenberger’s tone is detached and cool throughout, even when violent incidents are described, which makes it difficult to emotionally engage with the story. The novel is carefully researched rather than emotionally persuasive. – Kirkus Reviews
From Bangladesh to Rochester, With a Missed Connection
The New York Times Book Review – April 24, 2012 (Excerpt)
“The Newlyweds,” Nell Freudenberger’s affecting if sometimes ungainly new novel, starts off as a sort of high-concept Hollywood movie, mashing up the familiar fish-out-of-water story line with a girl-torn-between-two-boys plot. What all feels a bit like a paint-by-numbers exercise, however, gradually opens out into a genuinely moving story about a woman trying to negotiate two cultures, balancing her parents’ expectations with her own aspirations, her ambition and cynical practicality with deeper, more romantic yearnings.
he premise is this: Amina, a determined young Bangladeshi, meets an older American man named George on an online dating site; they e-mail for 11 months before meeting, and she eventually moves to America and marries him. It is more like the arranged marriage of Amina’s grandparents than like her parents’ love match.
Not all that surprisingly, there is little chemistry between the newlyweds, and during a trip home Amina realizes that she still loves Nasir, a family friend and her teenage crush. At the same time her new suburban life in Rochester represents the American dream she and her parents have spent years fantasizing about, and she wages a fierce campaign to bring her mother and father to the States.
The novel grew out of a story called “An Arranged Marriage,” which appeared in The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” fiction issue in 2010 and was originally inspired, Ms. Freudenberger said in a New Yorker interview, by a young woman she met on an airplane who had just come to the United States from Bangladesh to marry an American man she’d met on the Internet. In the acknowledgements to this novel, Ms. Freudenberger thanks Farah Deeba Munni for sharing her story (and making introductions to her family in Dhaka and Haibatpur and her husband in the States) and for “giving me the freedom to make something entirely different” from it. [Read the full article...]
Book World: Nell Freudenberger’s ‘The Newlyweds’ explores cross-cultural tensions
The Washington Post Book Review – April 24, 2012 (Excerpt)
Eventually, Nell Freudenberger will have written so many wonderful books that we’ll stop gossiping about how success fell into the young woman’s lap at age 26.
The tale of her sudden fame is the stuff of writers’ fantasies — a nerdy version of Lana Turner being discovered on a soda fountain stool. In 2001, while working as an editorial assistant at the New Yorker, Freudenberger had her first story published in the magazine, along with an alluring photo of herself lounging on a purple blanket. Vogue and Elle swooned. (A lot of us did.) A bidding war broke out over her first — at the time, unwritten — book. Prizes and fellowships followed. Granta named her one of the Best Young American Novelists. “Hating Nell Freudenberger,” Curtis Sittenfeld wrote in Salon, “is a virtual cottage industry among ambitious literati.”
Her new book should ramp up that cottage industry to major envy manufacturing. “The Newlyweds” is a delight, one of the easiest book recommendations of the year. (An excerpt appeared in the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” series in 2010.) The cross-cultural tensions and romance so well drawn here recall the pleasures of Monica Ali’s “Brick Lane” and Helen Simonson’s“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.” On a recent trip to St. Louis, I read most of it out loud to my wife, and we both fell in love with Freudenberg’s Bangladeshi heroine. [Read the full article...]
Migratory Hearts - ‘The Newlyweds,’ by Nell Freudenberger
The New York Times Book Review – April 26, 2012 (Excerpt)
At the end of Nell Freudenberger’s second novel, “The Newlyweds,” we encounter the following sentence: “I believe that it is only by sharing our stories that we truly become one community.”
A worthy objective, surely. Nonetheless we’re on tricky ground here, and a little probing on our part is called for. The sentence quoted above is in fact part of a Starbucks “Reach for the Stars” writing competition entry attributed to the novel’s protagonist, Amina, a Bangladeshi woman who has immigrated to America. But Amina’s entry, it turns out, was not actually written by Amina. It was written, and submitted, by Kim, an American cousin of Amina’s American husband, George. Kim is a yoga instructor. She is a storyteller, a bit of a liar. Like Freudenberger herself, she has spent time in South Asia. And Kim is held up, at least partly, as a stand-in for the author:
“ ‘But you always wear Indian clothes,’ Amina said.
“Kim laughed. ‘I wear my own version. This kind of thing.’ She indicated the bulky sweater she was wearing over an unseasonable cotton dress and a pair of black tights. ‘But trust me — I look stupid in a sari.’ ” [Read the full article...]
‘The Newlyweds’: A Match Made Online
NPR Book Review – May 1, 2012 (Excerpt)
There continues to be a lot of talk about gender bias in the book industry. The core argument goes that, while both male and female authors write novels about relationships and the domestic sphere, when a woman does so her books are relegated to “chic lit,” and when a man (like Jonathan Franzen) does, he’s lauded for serious literary achievement.
The covers of books written by men are starker, telegraphing importance, while women’s book jackets feature soft-focus, Mary Cassatt-type pictures of women and children. And, statistically, men’s books tend to command more attention through reviews and interviews. All legitimate, even self-evident criticisms, except when it comes to exceptions like Nell Freudenberger.
From the time she broke into The New Yorker at age 26 with her first-ever published short story, Freudenberger has been regarded as a heavyweight literary phenom, particularly for her 2003 short story collection, Lucky Girls. Her latest novel,The Newlyweds, features a dignified cover illustration of birds’ heads, and it has already generated a ton of reviews, including the coveted cover of The New York Times Book Review. Granted, Freudenberger hasn’t landed on the cover of Time magazine yet, but, surely, Jonathan Franzen must be looking over his shoulder. [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman
A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
The Londonderry Air is available at Amazon.Com, Amazon Kindle (US), Amazon.co.uk, Amazon Kindle (UK), Barnes & Noble, smashwords.com, and any other good bookstore.
For more information on Garrad Gawler and to read an excerpt of “The Londonderry Air,” please see the author’s section on this website.