Reviews for Newlyweds

Booklist Reviews 2012 May #1
*Starred Review* Amina of Dhaka, Bangladesh, meets George of Rochester, New York, on and comes to America to wed. She is smart and disciplined at 24. He is 10 years older, a well-employed loner set in his ways. Her English is excellent, though she claims to find sarcasm difficult to catch even as she slyly employs it. Yes, Amina is a marvelously wily narrator, and Freudenberger (Lucky Girls, 2003; The Dissident, 2006) greatly advances her standing as a writer skilled in understatement and deadpan wit as she continues her signature exploration of the dynamics between Americans and Southeast Asians in this exceptionally intimate, vivid, and suspenseful novel. Methodical and stoic Amina calculates to the day and dollar how long it will take her to become a citizen and save up enough money to bring her parents over, patiently dealing with prejudice, loneliness, and George's limitations until she detects the corrosiveness of secrets and lies. Still, she returns to Bangladesh to collect her parents as planned, only to find that her feckless father is in serious trouble and that her first love is even more compelling than she remembered. This classic tale of missed chances, crushing errors of judgment, and scarring sacrifices, all compounded by cultural differences, is perfectly pitched, piercingly funny, and exquisitely heartbreaking. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2012 May
Drawing a novel from a seatmate's story

The writer Edmund White once told Nell Freudenberger it takes maybe 15 or 20 years to write about an experience. “So in terms of writing about marriage, I’m definitely jumping the gun,” says Freudenberger, laughing, during a call to her home in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Freudenberger, author of The Dissident, a highly praised debut novel, and Lucky Girls, a collection of stories, was engaged but not yet married to architect Paul Logan when she began ruminating about the narrative that would eventually become her thoroughly captivating second novel, The Newlyweds.

“I was just thinking the other day that I will have had two children in the course of writing this book,” says Freudenberger, who was just days away from the birth of her second child when she spoke with BookPage and just weeks away from the publication of her new novel. “It’s a little discouraging how much longer the gestation of a book is than the gestation of a human. Of course there’s a lot more that you do afterwards with children. With a book, once you’re finished with it, you pretty much let it go.”

Freudenberger is about to let go of The Newlyweds, which explores the life of a middle-class Muslim woman from Bangladesh who meets an American electrical engineer on an international online dating site, then travels to Rochester, New York, to marry him.

The seed of the novel, Freudenberger says, was a conversation on an airplane. Freudenberger was on her way to Rochester to help her father, screenwriter Daniel Freudenberger, clean out the house of her grandmother, who had recently died after living there for more than 40 years. She took a seat next to Farah Deeba, who was returning from New York City to Rochester with her fiancÈ. The two struck up a conversation about their grandmothers, among other things.

"Farah gave me an enormous gift: telling me the stories and allowing me to make them into something different."

“I was curious about her, just because I’ve spent a lot of time in South Asia, and I assumed, wrongly, that she was Indian,” Freudenberger says. “And then I was interested that a middle-class Muslim woman would choose to meet somebody online and get married, because it’s a really unconventional choice. The prohibition about marrying outside the faith is even stronger for women than for men.”

Freudenberger and Deeba remained in close contact after the flight. “Farah loves to tell stories and I love to listen to them,” the author says. By the time Deeba invited her to visit her grandmother’s village in Bangladesh, Freudenberger had already asked for and received permission to use her experiences as the basis for a novel.

“I always start with the germ of something real, usually a second-hand story about somebody that I don’t know. This gives you a structure that you then make unrecognizable in the end. But this process was different. This was five years of conversations—not interviews, conversations. A lot of times the book seemed to be moving along a parallel track; the things that happened in the book weren’t the things Farah was telling me about, but without her stories, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine the place the way I did. Farah gave me an enormous gift: telling me the stories and allowing me to make them into something different.”

The central character of The Newlyweds, Amina, shares a few of the events of Deeba’s early life—her formal education ended at 13, but studying on her own she managed to pass her O levels and become fluent in English. The events of Amina’s later life, however, are Freudenberger’s invention—Amina’s struggle to find her bearings as an immigrant in Rochester, the ups and downs of the marriage, her husband’s hidden past and the temptation she feels to abandon her American marriage when she returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents back to Rochester.

“As I wrote the book, I was more and more aware of how much Amina is my own creation and is not Farah. The person I was making, in spite of her life looking so different from mine, has many similarities to me. I’m much less brave than this character, but certainly her weaknesses, like her drive to succeed maybe without enough forethought, wanting to get a gold star from the teacher, are something I share. . . . There’s always some part of fiction that’s confessing or writing about yourself. It’s a way, I think, of tricking yourself into being honest.”

The drive to be honest is equally apparent in Freudenberger’s crystalline prose, despite the fact that she feels largely unconscious of her sentences during composition. “When I’m writing, I’m inside somebody’s head, trying to see a situation as someone else would, so I’m not really thinking about the sentences. I think of sentences in terms of rhythm and balance and sound, but that’s a part of writing that’s almost athletic. It’s something that feels like exercise, like habit—in a good way. That’s why you do it every day. Otherwise, you get creaky.”

Freudenberger certainly did not get creaky while working on The Newlyweds. “I took so many wrong turns that needed to be scrapped,” she says. “I would always think of my father, who is a screenwriter. He would have a big bulletin board with Post-it notes pinned up with all the different scenes. The project was incredibly well organized before he started. For whatever reason I don’t think fiction works like that. I need to write a thousand drafts.”

Freudenberger adds, “I remember the day I sat down at my computer and wrote the first few pages in Amina’s voice, and I knew then that  I could write the book. I didn’t know what was going to happen in [Thu Aug 28 01:20:13 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. the book, but I felt as long as I stayed inside the characters, as long as the characters felt right, I could have faith that what happened to them would resolve itself.”

But the book also had to garner Deeba’s approval. “Having Farah read the novel was definitely a precondition for publishing the book. I was the most nervous when she was reading it. I was so afraid she wouldn’t like it or that it wouldn’t seem true to her.”

Deeba seems to have liked the results of Freudenberger’s work on The Newlyweds—and the rest of her readers will, too.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 March
New paperback releases for reading groups

In her fascinating memoir, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, Madeleine Albright looks back at her childhood, the discovery of her Jewish ancestry and a Europe torn by conflict. Albright was born in Prague in 1937. Her father, Joseph Korbel, was a diplomat who managed to move the family to England before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. It was only after she was tapped by Bill Clinton to become America’s first female secretary of state in 1997 that Albright learned a deeply hidden family secret: Though she was raised as a Roman Catholic, her family was Jewish and more than 20 of her relatives, including three of her grandparents, died in the Holocaust. That revelation, she writes, “provided the impetus for this book,” which combines her family’s story of life in exile with the events that shook her home country during and after World War II. Filled with intriguing insights into a crucial era that shaped her life, Albright’s memoir is historical yet intimate.

The Book of Jonas, Stephen Dau’s impressive debut novel, tells the touching story of a young Muslim boy who tries to adjust to life in the United States. Adopted by an American couple after his family is killed in the Middle East, 15-year-old Jonas is faced with big changes, from high school to a budding romance. Meanwhile, memories of the past haunt him, including the disappearance of Christopher Henderson, the American soldier who saved his life back home. When Jonas is introduced to Rose, Christopher’s mother, he meets a grieving parent who’s determined to speak out on behalf of families with children in the military. But their encounter brings a terrible truth to light, teaching Jonas important lessons about life during wartime. Dau writes in an unembellished style that suits the starkness of his subject matter, yet there’s a warmth to his portrayal of Jonas and a deep emotional quality to the novel overall. Dau’s sense of craftsmanship is clear throughout. This is a remarkably mature first novel from a promising writer.

Funny, compassionate and deeply perceptive regarding matters of the human heart, Nell Freudenberger’s latest novel, The Newlyweds, is a delight from start to finish. Amina Mazid, a 24-year-old woman from Bangla­desh, relocates to Rochester, New York, to marry George, a man she met on an online dating site. The opportunity to embark on a new life in America is alluring to Amina, whose parents also stand to benefit from her marriage. George loves the fact that Amina is clear-headed and straightforward—someone who knows what she wants and doesn’t waste time. But, despite their fortuitous meeting, both George and Amina have ties to the past that prevent them from moving forward. When Amina goes back to Bangladesh, her return puts their relationship to the test. Freudenberger has created complex, believable characters whose inner lives ring true. This timely novel is a poignant exploration of the clash of different cultures and the nature of contemporary romance.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 April #2
Freudenberger (The Dissident, 2006, etc.) examines a marriage arranged via the Internet. They met on 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. Well executed but a bit too obviously studied--more willed than felt. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 April #2

Amina grew up in Bangladesh, and her family always dreamed of sending her to the United States. She gets her chance when she meets George, an engineer in Rochester, NY, on an online dating site. As Amina adjusts to married life with the kind but somewhat rigid George, she slowly assimilates to American culture while planning to bring her parents to Rochester. Family feuds in Bangladesh, a rough patch in her marriage, and the economic downturn put this plan in jeopardy. With delicate precision, Freudenberger in her second novel (after The Dissident) slowly builds a story that feels utterly real and present. The subtle and detailed observation of human relations is reminiscent of Alice Munro, and the bittersweet humor and struggles of modern immigrant life are captured in a manner similar to the work of Bharati Mukherjee. VERDICT Other than a deranged cousin in Bangladesh, there are no real villains here, just imperfect humans who don't always make the right choices but do the best they can in their given circumstances. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 11/28/11.]--Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 March #1

Freudenberger's delicately observed second novel is another account of cross-cultural confusion in the tale of a Bangladeshi woman, 24-year-old Amina Mazid, who becomes the e-mail-order bride of 34-year-old George Stillman, an electrical engineer in Rochester, N.Y. Arriving in snowy Rochester in 2005 is a culture shock for Amina, but within three years she has her green card, is married to George, and is taking college courses when not pulling espresso at Starbucks. Her marriage, though, has its problems. Sex is awkward, George loses his job, and Amina discovers something that makes her doubt his sincerity. She eventually returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents to the U.S., but a problem with her father's visa keeps Amina there and forces her back into the morass of her extended family's resentments and petty jealousies, all of which she'd hoped to escape in marriage. Add to her troubles an old suitor, Nasir, waiting not so patiently in the wings. Freudenberger (The Dissident) does an excellent job of portraying the plight of a young Muslim woman not totally comfortable in either of the worlds she inhabits. But Amina's passivity may frustrate many readers, and George is a complete cipher. In the end, Freudenberg's anatomy of a modern arranged marriage is somewhat too dependent on cultural clichs to entirely satisfy. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (May)

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