The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

newlywedsI flipped and flopped a fair bit over whether I should read The Newlyweds. In many ways it is Nell Freudenberger‘s breakout novel, though it is her third. I remember when The Dissident by her came out, and I was attracted to it. By way of contrast, The Newlyweds  seemed so … domestic and pedestrian (the cover of the newly released trade paperback does nothing to dispel this; I’ve pictured the hardcover edition). But for some reason it was gaining wide spread acclaim. So I read it and was pleasantly surprised.

On the surface The Newlyweds appears to be a story you’ve heard before: a man from the States meets a woman from Bangladesh online and they get married. A clash of cultures follows as the woman resettles in the United States. Freudenberger makes this staid plot come alive with deceptive twists and turns and of course, bewildering sets of family dynamics on both sides. Her writing is simple and unadorned but her characters are far from it. They are what make the novel great.

The one thing that impresses me the most about Freudenberger is her ability to get into the heads of people from different cultures. She has successfully done this in all of her books, but most notably in The Dissident and The Newlyweds. I have spent a lot of time in South Asia and was wary of how someone, who is ostensibly American, would portray a Bangladeshi family. It would seem, however, that Freudenberger has done her research. She is able to paint a picture of Deshi village life that is as realistic as her portrait of suburban Rochester, NY. Moreover, I don’t recall any criticism of an American ‘appropriating the voice of a third world other’. This comes as a bit of a relief to me as I am in the middle of writing a novel with several ‘others’ in it.

Who would like this book? Freudenberger really is one of those hot, young American writers you should be watching. Everything she has written has been highly praised and award winning. I suspect her next novel will be huge. So that being said, I would encourage you to follow in my footsteps and read other stuff by her. I may bypass The Dissident and go right onto Lucky Girls, collection of short stories.