The Newlyweds looks into the forces of marriage
By Nell Freudenberger. Knopf, 352 pp, hardcover
In her previous books, the PEN/Malamud Award–winning short-story collection Lucky Girls and the novel The Dissident, Nell Freudenberger has written vividly about travellers abroad and convoluted desires. The Newlyweds, her latest work, is a portrait of Amina Mazid and George Stillman, two singles whose unlikely romance blooms in cyberspace. How else could a 24-year-old tutor in Dhaka, Bangladesh, encounter a 34-year-old engineer in Rochester, New York?
Beyond depicting intermarriage and immigrant experience, this bittersweet tale explores the magnetic force that wedlock can exert over spouses, families, and cultures, detailing both a daughter’s commitment to her parents and the ways that good intentions are disguised by refusal and sacrifice. One of the New Yorker’s celebrated “Twenty Under Forty”, Freudenberger is a captivating stylist who illustrates her heroine’s journeys in sensitive, unaffected prose.
Three years after arriving in Rochester, Amina, now an American citizen with a driver’s licence and a job at Starbucks, has settled into the humdrum routine of ever-after with George. Married life plays itself out in banal dinners with her in-laws, a seldom fulfilling sex life, and the customary plan to start a family. Bringing her parents to the United States has always been her intent, though George is reluctant to share his home with them. “At first we were puzzle pieces,” Amina observes, increasingly disheartened by their union. “Now we’re the puzzle.” Fate nevertheless intervenes, with George acquiescing and Amina returning to her homeland—the people and circumstances she left behind—to obtain visas for her mother and father.
While political and economic undercurrents occasionally surface, America and its citizens here are largely narrative devices, stand-ins for opportunity and liberty. By contrast, the scenes and individuals in Bangladesh are lush with verisimilitude, reflecting the Brooklyn-based author’s visceral awareness of her protagonist’s interior and exterior climes, and her sterling ability to entertain and transport with a polished ease.
Acknowledging the conflicting motives that initially draw, eventually strain, and later keep a couple together, The Newlyweds kindly remembers the chances taken and relinquished in the name of love.