Viking, £12.99

The Newlyweds, By Neil Freudenberger

An arranged alliance of the online age must overcome glitches both old and new

The Newlyweds, Nell Freudenberger's second novel, is a charming and serious tale of marriage, family and identity. Its prose style is intimate, almost conspiratorial, as it moves from suburban America to the cities of south Asia, threading its arm around the reader confidently. The writing is clear and spare. Yet Freudenberger's investigation into what makes relationships work, and whether two people who once were once strangers can ever create a bond that can rival the deep attachments of parents and children, is complex and sophisticated.

Amina Mazid, a Bangladeshi teacher aged 24, is wooed via email by George Stillman, an engineer from Rochester, New York whom she meets online at AsianEuro.com. Intelligent and thoughtful, she has all her life loved everything "foreign"; nothing pleasing her more than Fanta, Cadbury's chocolate andWestern clothing. When a scholarship to a US university seems too expensive a proposition, she daydreams with her mother about marriage to an American as a way of satisfying her thirst for difference.

It is hard to understand exactly what the idea of America represents to Amina. She is an only child in a culture of big families. Her mother's fragile health is a constant concern. Her father, though a freedom-fighting hero as a young man, has no head for business and a series of failed ventures has meant constant financial insecurity.

America seems, I think, irreproachable to Amina: it is strong, solid, invulnerable and unarguable, like an oak tree crossed with God. It is safe in America; life is clear and clean. Amina and her mother pore over George's emails, analysing his every phrase, just as they used to examine her set texts from school.

George's disappointments with American women are many: their lack of modesty, their coarseness and their whims. It touches George that Amina does not put a picture of herself on the dating website, despite her obvious beauty. After 11 months of emailing, with one significant ten week break, George pays a visit to the family and on the ninth day he proposes. "I won't say I love you," he remarks, but he says it soon after Amina arrives in Rochester, when she mentions there is no need for a big white wedding dress. "That's why I love you… You're so much more sensible than American women." And so a marriage that is more "arranged" than the marriage of her parents takes place, and as with all marriages it is a beginning and not an ending.

Much of The Newlyweds concerns itself with Amina's adjustment to the new country, with has a grating informality as well as an alien stiffness for her. Her loneliness is evident in her gusto to win friends. There is also her projected anxiety about how her parents will cope when they join her in America.

George and Amina are brave and tell themselves they are lucky to have the hook of "cultural differences" to hang their disputes on, for what do other poor arguing couples use as an excuse? A cousin writes Amina unsettling emails reminding her of the gap between her home life and married life, as if to suggest the two can never be bridged.

Amina draws comparisons between her husband and father, in particular their anger styles. Her father's bouts of temper are brief like thunder. George's are characterised by his shoulders moving closer to his ears, and silence. This is perhaps the hardest "cultural difference" for Amina, for "how could you argue with someone who began to disappear as soon as you opened your mouth?" Is there enough common ground and depth to this unusual union for it to survive?

It is daring for an American novelist who lives in Brooklyn to write from the point of view of a Bangladeshi woman and to attempt such an interior view of family ties in Bangladesh. Yet Freudenberger approaches her subject with great sensitivity, a heavy sense of the seriousness of life - and much wry humour.

 

'The Small Hours' by Susie Boyt is due from Virago in November

Buy The Newlyweds (Viking) from www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk for £10.99 (RRP £12.99) including postage or call 0843 0600030

Arts and Entertainment

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible