Category Archives: Pakistan

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

The NewlywedsI started listening to this lovely novel and was drawn into the story of Amina, a young Muslim woman from Bangladesh, who comes to Rochester, NY to marry a man she met via the Internet. George seems like a nice guy, an engineer with a good job, and Amina works hard at learning to adjust to life in that small, cold, upstate NY city.  She’s a particularly intelligent, thoughtful person, and the story’s told from her viewpoint as she tries hard to balance her new life and aspirations against her parents’ expectations, especially their hopes that she’ll continue to live as an observant Muslim.

Since novels are based on complications, we learn that Amina and George have prior relationships that cause tension in the marriage. And George’s family has some issues that complicate Amina’s life. Amina wants to bring her parents to Rochester as soon as she gets her green card, although in the course of the novel she begins to understand how difficult that will be. In the last section of the novel, Amina returns to Bangladesh to shepherd her parents through the visa process and flight to the U.S. There are problems, and she ends up staying longer than expected, immersed in the old rivalries and jealousies that she went to America to escape.

The novel ends without much resolution, leaving the reader (or listener) with lots to ponder about what Amina has in store for her. The narrator was excellent, although since the pacing is slow, I eventually became frustrated and went to the library and read the last section. For those who enjoy immigrant stories, The Newlyweds is a little gem.

Daniyal Mueenuddin in The New Yorker

I went to a wedding in Toronto the other weekend and took along a bunch of New Yorkers that needed to be read, including the December 3rd Food Issue. Although I wasn’t certain that I’d be enchanted by any of the articles, I started at the beginning of the issue, as usual, and read my way through, coming to a screeching halt after I read Sameer and the Samosas by Daniyal Mueenuddin.  I needed to find someone to share this lovely personal essay with and since I don’t suffer from carsickness, I read it to MathMan on the drive back home.

Mueenuddin is the son of an American mother and Pakistani father. He spent his first 13 years in Pakistan and then came to the U.S. for the balance of his formal education. After college, hoping to find a place where he could write, where he “would  have leisure, would find subjects, color, conflict” and responding to his father’s cajoling letters, he returned to Pakistan. His father asks him to take over one of the family farms, in a rural area of Lahore. It happens to be the place he loved most to visit as a child. He agrees and sets off with high hopes that he can be a proper steward for the farm and become a writer.

“My God, how penny-bright and clueless I was, arriving at the farm that day in 1987” he writes. It’s a classic tale about how the servants who have fattened their own coffers in the absence of the landlord are determined to continue to hoodwink the new, young, and indeed very clueless heir.  Daniyal’s Groton and Dartmouth educations have hardly equipped him for the thievery that is disguised by the fawning, deferential behavior of the staff. He is a threat to their way of life, an outsider, and they will play him for a fool as long as they can.

As always, what makes this personal essay so enjoyable is the writing; it’s always the writing. In a leisurely way, Mueenuddin sets the scene, describing the landscape as he arrives at the farm, bringing the reader into the picture. His childhood memories of long sleepy train rides to Lahore, of shooting grouse with his six-toed shikari, all work together to create a picture of the rural idyll he cherished. Arriving as an adult to take over the farm is quite a different matter: he’s met by a line of managers–“suave, ruthless, cunning operators” who he likens to “a conclave of Renaissance cardinals” plotting his confusion.

I can’t tell any more; whether the young landlord finds a way to assert control or finds a way to make peace with their greed is for Mueenuddin to tell.  No matter the resolution, it’s the telling that shines.