Brick Lane Summary and Study Guide

Monica Ali

Brick Lane

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Brick Lane Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 48-page guide for “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 21 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Fate and Desire and Beauty.

Plot Summary

The chief protagonist of Brick Lane was born in an East Pakistan village in 1967, prior to Bangladesh Liberation War. In 1971, the nation won its independence only to suffer through a devastating famine and political turmoil marked by a succession of military coups. The narrative mostly takes place in 2001, concerning events in a Muslim immigrant community in London before and after the World Trade Center tragedy.In this span of a woman’s life, the narrative reveals her slowly winning her autonomy and her nation’s status as the fourth largest textile exporter.

Nazneen is born under a fated sign that her mother, Rupban, connects to endurance by means of passive acceptance. This stoic belief dramatically sets apart Nazneen’s from her sister Hasia, a free spirit who follows her passion. The separation is physical when Nazneen is relocated to London through an arranged marriage to a man nearly twice her age.

At the age of 18, Nazneen prepares her first dinner party for Dr. Azad, a friend of her husband, Chanu, a Bengali immigrant who has lived in London for decades. She is distracted from her preparations by a letter from Hasina, who has news of her passionate marriage to her teenage boyfriend, with whom she fled the village. As the hour of the dinner party draws near, visitors keep Nazneen from her wifely duties to gossip about a “fallen woman” who just plunged to her death.

The specter of the “fallen woman” hangs over Nazneen as she adapts to life in her new environment. She settles into the routine of the young wife of a Bengali immigrant, cutting away the debris with her husband’s corns, putting up with his snores, and cleaning the cluttered space defining the boundaries of daily life. With no space made for her arrival, she finds her center through meditating every afternoon. In contrast, her husband has a framed certificate from the Center for Meditation and the Healing and that he proudly shows his new wife, but she never sees him open the Koran, from which she receives solace. She realizes he is unhappy and is projecting his hopes onto the future rather than taking pleasure in daily life.

The joy Chanu is seeking is poured into the birth of a son. Yet, the baby dies in infancy, despite his parents’ efforts to have him healed. This reliance on Western medicine to accommodate fate is in marked contrast to Nazneen, who had been left to fend for herself.

A friendship with the jovial Razia is an importantpart of Nazneen’s development. The two women build a solid friendship through the fusing of their opposite characters, with humorous Raziabuffering Nazneen’s fatalism. A release from the persistent tension of Nazneen’s struggle to make a new lifeis reading letters from her sister, who has constant news of the ups and downs of her passionate affairs. Nazneen cherishes the letters as a window to another world, a world of desire forbidden to her as a dutiful wife in an arranged marriage.

Many years earlier, Nazneen’s mother Rupban’s body was discovered leaning low over the sacks of rice, staked through the heart by a spear. Indeed, their mother is the “fallen woman” haunting the sisters, marking their lives through her tragic and unforeseen suicide. The mystery surrounding the literal piercing of their mother’s heart drives the plot. As a youth, Nazneen never questioned the details of her death: why she was wearing her best sari, though it wasn’t a holiday, and why her aunt Mumtaz never spoke to her father afterwards.

The narrative passes the years through Hasina’s letters. As she describes her patterns of love and betrayal and falls into homelessness, we learn that Nazneen has given birth to two girls.

The narrative reaches January 2001. Chanu comes home with a computer and a sewing machine, tools of technology that give him and his wife an entry into the wider world. Yet, this bounty has come at a steep price as Nazneen learns from Razia that they will never be able to escape Mrs. Islam, who loaned him the money. As she is torn between saving money for her sister and paying the debt to a usurer, a solution appears when her husband starts bringing sewing home. Soon, Chanu says he has a new job driving a taxi and a new middleman appears through the door. This is Karim, and he becomes a karmic force in Nazneen’s life when they become lovers.

Chanu finds his escape from the debt in his plans to return home. Meanwhile, Nazneengains power through outwardly experiencing the tension opposites as the eroticism dynamism of her love affair. Karim is gaining a reputation as a community leader and activist. He becomes Nazneen’s political teacher, extending her awareness of herself to the outer world. This inner development leads her to confront her husband about his debt, thereby taking over the responsibility.

As fate and destiny build to a crescendo, so does the tension in the Muslim community following September 11, 2011. A march against the Mullahs is planned for October 27, the same day of Nazneen and Chanu’s plane tickets to Dhaka.

While Chanu is intent on escaping the truth of his wife’s affair, Nazneen is faced with the truth about her mother’s death through her sister’s revelation of the secret surrounding Rupban’s death. This letter is like a talisman that changes her life, giving her the strength to confront her husband’s debt, her lover, husband, and runaway daughter–all in a 24-hour period before her scheduled departure. This enactment of personal power gives her an authentic freedom along with a wise new understanding of her sister. Their opposite paths to love have met in the middle, along with the shared truth of how their mother had fallen.

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Chapters 1-3