Nell Freudenberger, The Newlyweds
An expansive novel about a small life, told in silvery & uncluttered prose
Amina Mazid arrives in America at age twenty-five from Bangladesh after meeting an eligible husband through a dating website called AsianEuro.com. George, the prospective husband in question, is a finicky and reticent electrical engineer – perfectly nice and perfectly unknowable. The couple ties the knot and settles down in Rochester, New York, where Nell Freudenberger unspools the perils and pleasures of a short chunk in the life of a newlywed immigrant in the twenty-first century.
Amina is headstrong and ambitious, and it is a delight to see familiar subjects – America, marriage, sex, shopping, work – through her keen (and sometimes bewildered) eye. She comes to adore heated cars, the concept of a snooze button, the white-noise hum of multiple household appliances simultaneously at work; she misses thin sugared omelets fried in ghee and her parents at home. Freudenberger’s novel moves assuredly forward as Amina negotiates her new life, exploring the nuances of a marriage that sooner suggests a business partnership than a love affair. Folded into the narrative are observations no less startling for their quotidian quality; watching romantic comedies on TV, for example, Amina meditates on what exactly it is that appeals to her about their storylines: “It wasn’t the expensive trappings of these onscreen partnerships, she decided, but the foreign idea of a decisive moment – some gesture meaningful only to the couple involved – so that even if they were in a crowd of people the proposal was personal and unique.”
Amina, it turns out, has traveled a long way from her rural village in order to find, in Rochester, a life just as small as the one she left behind, but the resulting novel is much more expansive – more joyous, more bleak, more everything – than its premise would suggest. Much of this owes to the quality of Freudenberger’s sentences, for which “lovely” seems the best possible descriptor. As with the author’s story collection, Lucky Girls, and debut novel, The Dissident, the prose is silvery, uncluttered, and subtle – all of which makes it that much better absorbed in an audio format.