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Amina is from Bangladesh; her father had been a freedom fighter against the Pakistanis, and her parents are from a village. So her experience is very different from that of American women. In her early twenties, she works for wealthy Bangladeshi families teaching their children, and this gives her access to the Internet. She joins a dating site AsianEuro.com that puts her in touch with American men, and this way she meets George, who lives in Rochester, NY. One of her requirements for potential partners is that the man must be willing to convert to Islam, Amina's religion. The two of them keep on writing to each other and eventually he falls in love with her. He visits her in her home country, and she comes to America to marry him. They live in a 1970s home on a tract, and George is looking forward to having a family with Amina. She is keen for her parents to come over to join her, and then her mother can help her raise a family, but George is not so keen on that. It will only be possible for them to come once she gets her citizenship, and that will take several years, so they have time to resolve the issue, although there is a possibility that they won't be able to agree. Indeed, the many differences between threaten the success of their marriage.
We see Amina struggle to get used to American culture and find a job. We see strains in the marriage between Amian and George. We see the two of them uncover facts about each other's pasts, although George's attitude towards his wife is hard to tell. He seems like a nice guy, and engineer who watches football at home while drinking beer. We never find out much about his family or his past, and he seems to go along with just about everything that Amina wants, except her parents coming to live with them. We find out much more about Amina's family and her reactions to her new life, and that's what makes the story interesting. She talks with her parents frequently by phone, and their reactions to what she tells them amplifies her difference from the local people, until she starts to keep some details secret because she knows how they will react.
Towards the end of the novel, Amina returns to Bangladesh, and we get a vivid portrait of village life there. She is thrown into turmoil by her experience and her whole future comes into question. So it is a good climax to the novel, but readers may wonder about whether the end is really satisfying. Indeed, reactions to the novel by both Amazon.com readers and professional reviewers have been very mixed. Both George and Amina are both hard characters to like. It's never clear whether Amina ever loved George, and this raises the worry that she is just using him. The issue is complicated by her attitude to marriage, since she has grown up in a culture that is comfortable with arranged marriages, and so romantic love is not considered an essential part of marriage. Even though we find out quite a lot about her family and her childhood, Amina's is hard to understand; maybe this is because she is not secure in her own identity, but that isn't clear either. Many readers complain that the writing is dull, but that's a hard criticism to agree with, since the book is well crafted. Listening to the book in audio helps with the different accents, and Mozhan Marno gives a strong performance of the unabridged audiobook.
Even if there are problems with the characterization of Amina and George, this is still a novel worth reading because its portrayal of a Bangladeshi woman's experience in suburban America is unusual and enjoyable.
© 2012 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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