I love fiction set outside the United States, the more far-fetched the better, as it holds a window up to parts of the world that I may never get a chance to see and experience. Nell Freudenberger’s newest novel, The Newlyweds is a wonderful entanglement of two very opposite worlds- that of Amina, a Bangladeshi young woman and her new husband, George, an American who went looking for love online.
George and Amina meet on AsianEuro.com, where he has gone in search of love to console a heartbreak he isn’t as over as he thinks he is and she is looking for love, or at least a connection, that will allow her and her parents to leave behind the life they have in Bangladesh and start over in what they imagine is the Land of Dreams- America. After an online courtship with just a few bumps, George flies to Bangladesh with an engagement ring in his pocket, to meet the woman with whom he has been exchanging emails filled with stories of who he is (although, Amina will soon learn that there are secrets left untold.)
With their engagement behind them and Amina’s successful application for a visa, she travels to the United States alone, to be married and start a life with George, knowing that she will apply for her parents to follow as soon as it is legally possible. She and George settle in to married life and get along fine, but between George’s past love affair and Amina’s future plans, there are certain aspects of themselves that they are each unwilling to share.
Having never been to Bangladesh, I can’t say how accurate the portrayal of the country is, but I was struck less by the poverty described in certain sections and more by the brutality employed, seemingly with impunity, by Amina’s distant family members who feel that her father has stolen from them. Between the attempt by one to burn her and her mother alive in their apartment to the acid thrown on her father in the market when she has come home to help her parents secure visas, the violence and lack of punishment for it is astounding. Bangladesh is made out to be rather lawless, especially when it comes to the villages. It seems like a terrifying place to live, let alone raise a family, and it is understandable why Amina and her mother have worked Amina’s entire life to find her a way out.
I love that this story is a realistic look at what marriage might be. In the US, we are conditioned to think love is the one and only basis for a happy marriage, but there are other ways to reach that same level of contentment in a relationship. George and Amina have some tough times and are forced to deal with a variety of difficult issues early on in their marriage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work through them and create what could ultimately be a lifetime of happiness, despite their cultural differences. Nell Freudenberger’s beautifully written latest work, The Newlyweds, was outstanding and easily earns: