4 noteworthy new novels: What happens when a past love reappears?

In this week's fiction roundup, past loves come back to haunt female heroines – in at least one case, quite literally.

1. 'The Newlyweds,' by Nell Freudenberger

Life as a mail-order bride isn't all it's cracked up to be in Nell Freudenberger's excellent second novel The Newlyweds.

Freudenberger famously came to attention at 26 when she had her first short story published in The New Yorker. But she's proven herself worth the hype. “The Newlyweds” is a shrewdly empathetic examination of culture clash that reminds a reader of Monica Ali's “Brick Lane” or Leila Aboulela's “The Translator.”

Amina Mazid of Bangladesh met George Stillman of upstate New York on AsianEuro.com. It wasn't exactly love at first sight. (In fact, Amina had a crush on Nasir, the son of one of her father's freedom fighter buddies.) But her parents were getting older and her father's business failures were getting more costly, and Amina, an only child, knows she's their only hope of security. Her marriage, she realizes, has much more in common with her grandparents' arranged union than her parents, who were so in love that they ran away together over their families' objections.

Once in New York, Amina learns to adjust – not just to the weather and the food, but to the people who assume she must be a babysitter because of her brown skin, and to dead-end jobs at a retail store and a Starbucks, where it doesn't seem like she'll ever be able to save enough money to bring her parents over. Most of all, she has to adjust to life with George, who had promised to convert to Islam but is now in no hurry, and who appears leery of the idea of in-laws he only met once moving in with him. His cousin Kim is the only Stillman eager to befriend Amina, but George seems wary of their friendship.

Whenever Amina talks to her parents, “she had the disorienting feeling that her past was still happening, unfolding in a parallel stream right alongside her present. Only on the telephone did the streams ever cross.” (As we know from “Ghostbusters,” that can be a very dangerous thing.)

In the last third of the novel, Amina returns to Bangladesh and faces Nasir and the choices she's made. But her return isn't the longed-for homecoming; after her years in America, she doesn't quite fit in either country. "You thought that you were the permanent part of your own experience, the net that held it all together – until you discovered that there were many selves, dissolving into one another so quickly over time that the buildings and trees and even the pavement turned out to have more substance than you did."

1 of 4

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.