Title: The Newlyweds
Author: Nell Freudenberger
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 5 out of 5
Amina Mazid is a woman living in Bangladesh, and at twenty-four, she is about to be married. Not to just anyone, though – Amina is going to move to Rochester, New York with her new husband George Stillman, whom she met on an online dating site. Amina is excited to build a future in a new country with her new husband, but she has unrevealed desires and hopes of which she tells George nothing. What Amina doesn’t know, though, is that George is harboring his own secrets that could tear their delicate marriage apart.
The Newlyweds is a beautifully depicted cross-cultural story of two very different people. The novel is told from Amina’s point of view, and her story is, in some ways, a very sad one. She is leaving everything she knows and loves in hopes that she will have a better future with George in America. But, at the same time, she doesn’t feel that she can truly confide in George. From the beginning, she wants her parents to come live with her and George in Rochester, yet she knows that George isn’t willing to invite them into their home permanently. This lack of communication is telling and characterizes the marriage for much of the novel.
It’s interesting when the main character isn’t necessarily the most sympathetic, which is the case in The Newlyweds. That’s not to say that Amina isn’t likeable, but that it’s George who many will likely feel for the most. The cultural differences between Amina and George are vast, yet it’s often him, rather than her, who is willing to bridge the gap. It brings up the question of compromise, which is so important in marriage and is relevant whether your marriage is cross-cultural or not. It also will provoke thoughts of what Amina might owe George – is she beholden to him for marrying her and providing her with a chance at a better life, or is that to be expected because he’s in love with her?
That being said, Amina is a woman that readers will fall in love with, despite her flaws, or rather, because of them. She is torn between what she wants and what George wants, what her culture dictates versus what might make her marriage a little better, a little easier. Her experiences in Rochester with a brand new culture make for a quintessential immigrant tale, and Amina’s thoughts about the process illustrate it beautifully.
Nell Freudenberger’s writing in The Newlyweds is poetic and beautiful. She constructs her characters so carefully, with such art, that the reader comes to know them intimately by the end of the novel. It’s difficult to remember that Amina is part of Fredenberger’s imagination, rather than a woman living her life in Rochester, beyond the confines of the book.
This is a quiet novel that speaks in whispers, in hushed tones that contain incisive observations and profound thoughts. It’s not about explosive revelations or twists and turns; instead, it’s about subtlety. In fact, it’s difficult to understand exactly what the driving force of the novel is. In a less talented author’s hands, it could have easily been boring, dragging on for chapters where nothing happens. But Freudenberger makes this beautiful novel as compelling as any fast-paced thriller. Readers will race to discover what happens to Amina as she tries to find her way in the United States. Freudenberger has left the novel open-ended, and readers will clamor for a sequel as no one will be quite ready to let go of Amina and George when the last pages are finished.