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“The Newlyweds” by Nell Freudenberger is a brilliant novel about the mixing of two cultures.
Amina had to leave school in Bangladesh when she was only 13 but she continued to study at home. She read everything she could get her hands on, ultimately passing her “O” levels.
An only child, she is devoted to her parents. Her mother, Amina’s strongest ally and friend, encourages her to find a husband in the U.S. so she can obtain citizenship and move her parents there, too. Amina’s father, although kind, loving and supportive, has a habit of investing in the next “sure” enterprise, then going bankrupt, leaving the family with very few resources.
George is 34 and living in Rochester, N.Y. He has never been married. One day he logs onto the AsianEuro.com website and begins exchanging emails with Amina. He has no idea where she lives but is struck by how practical and down to earth she seems. She even confesses she is 24, not 23. They exchange photos and he eventually travels to Bangladesh to meet her. George wants a dependable wife, Amina to escape the poverty and unrest of Bangladesh. George agrees to convert to the Muslim religion and they marry first in a civil ceremony and then in a mosque.
In its early months, the marriage seems to be working. Amina likes George’s family and they are very good to her. She finds herself part-time jobs while attending community college and sends half her paycheck back to her parents. She applies for citizenship. Everything seems to be on schedule. But secrets from both their pasts start to surface. There are cultural differences. And the longer she is in the U.S, the more she changes.
“Amina knew she was a different person speaking Bangla than she was when speaking English; she noticed the change every time she switched languages on the phone. She is older in English, and also less fastidious; in Bangla, she feels like a parent to her parents. In Bangla, of course, they were still the parents, and she let them fuss over her.”
Her grandparents had had an arranged marriage, but hers is different. The old matchmakers matched hobbies, interests, habits and public griefs. Amina had thought that matchmaking over the Internet was no different.
For a story of newlyweds, the novel has a sadness to it. This is a story of two very different cultures coming together.