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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Review: The Newlyweds

The Newlyweds belongs in that category of mainstream fiction known as the immigrant woman's narrative. It's considered an important literary art form, though unfortunately it's become so cliche that you can list the tropes as a series of checkboxes and watch the author clicks through them one at a time.

This book is a typically cliched example of the genre. The protagonist is a Bangledesh woman (about 10 years ago, it would have been a Chinese woman via Amy Tan or Maxine Kingston Hong) who marries an American engineer and comes to the USA to start a new life. There's the culture shock moments, there's the clash of religions/expectations, and there's the woman itself: she has next to no skills, and arrives penniless, and is wholly dependent on her software engineering husband. How about once in a while we get a protagonist who's capable of getting a green card all by herself for a change?!

The narrative revolves around the woman (for a change, I would also like to see someone write about the male immigrants, but I guess they're all too busy being successful software engineers for someone to bother writing about their experience), and the discovery that her husband-to-be had lied to her before the wedding. In the grand scheme of things, these are small lies, and they're lies of omission, rather than lies of commission. I've heard of much worse stories in the Asian community. But in this genre, the smallest thing can be blown up into the biggest issue, because that's how the genre works. More importantly, the book is predictable right down to the ending: at no point does the protagonist make an attempt to effect her life in a positive way, or gets over her sense that she's at the center of the universe.

Towards the end of the novel I found myself flipping pages forward out of boredom. I was not surprised that at no point did skipping entire chapters cause me to lose sight of the plot --- that's how slowly the book moves, and how many worthless digressions are woven into the story.

If you enjoy this genre, I suppose this book might be interesting to you: the author is capable of putting together decent prose, and has a good grasp of Bangladeshi life. I can't tell how authentic this is or how well the author's done her homework without putting more effort into this book than it deserves. For all others who've read at least one book in this genre, I suspect that the book will feel ridiculously familiar.

Not recommended. Go read some science fiction instead. At least that's one genre where competent women protagonists are not excluded.

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