Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
Licensed to wed
Novel deftly explores relationships
By Elizabeth Rabin
For The Free Lance-Star
AMERICANS are living in a time where the idea of marriage is under scrutiny. Who should get married? How should two people be joined in wedded bliss? Does marriage always have to result in children? Nell Freudenberger’s “The Newlyweds” will not provide any answers to these questions, but will move readers to thoroughly examine their opinions about marriage. Like “Sense and Sensibility,” the novel explores how a couple builds a relationship and why they stay together.
“Newlyweds” opens on Amina Mazid Stillman, an intelligent, ambitious Bangladeshi woman living in limbo in Rochester, N.Y. Three years after her marriage to her American husband, George Stillman, she will be eligible to become a citizen and bring her parents over from Bangladesh. In the meantime she is learning how to navigate her new homeland, taking courses at the local community college and learning the nuances of married life.
Though these events would seem like enough for anyone to take on, Amina is waiting for more. She is waiting for her Deshi side to balance her Westernized persona. She is waiting for New York to start feeling like home. And like most of us, she is waiting to feel satisfied with her personal choices.
Amina is a graceful, brilliant protagonist who could stand equal to any of Jane Austen’s heroines. As a Muslim woman from a poor family, she has chosen marriage as a way to better her own life and to provide for her family. But her marriage to George is a step toward maturity that complicates rather than clarifies her own life. The couple’s conversations deftly reveal the spark between them as well as the barriers. At one family dinner in New York, Amina mentions that she cannot eat pork. George’s aunt responds by defending the “cleanliness” of American pork. George steps in to explain Amina’s Muslim faith. Yet later, when she tries to finalize plans for her parents’ living arrangements, he refuses to even consider letting them live in their home.
“Newlyweds” remains compelling because both Amina and George have secrets in their past that influence how they relate to each other. Lost loves, failed dreams and childhood traumas wait to be revealed and made a part of the couple’s life together.
Freudenberger writes with such depth and tension that readers will finish “Newlyweds” wondering how long George and Amina’s marriage will last. But with the novel’s insights freshly in mind, that same reader will realize it is a question that could be asked of any everyday couple.
Elizabeth Rabin is a freelance writer in Spotsylvania County.
By Nell Freudenberg
(Knopf, $25.95, 352 pp.)
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