NELL FREUDENBERGER is one of those New York Times Book Review Notable, New Yorker 20 Under 40 young writers whose first efforts (a novel, The Dissident, and the story collection Lucky Girls) were met with widespread acclaim. Her new novel The Newlyweds firmly delivers on that early promise—it's an ambitious, sophisticated novel that ingeniously situates the domestic sphere in a global context.
The Newlyweds is told from the point of view of Amina, a young Bangladeshi woman who relocates to Upstate New York after meeting an American named George on the dating site AsianEuro.com. Marrying an American promises a ticket out of danger and poverty for Amina and her parents, while for George, Amina is a more serious, no-nonsense kind of girl than the ones he's met at home.
George is a bit of a bore, but he's basically a decent guy, willing to become a Muslim if Amina wants him to, and supportive of her desire to go back to school and find a job. But when George loses his job, it calls into question the wisdom of Amina's decisions, as well as her plans to help her parents emigrate.
Amina is a level, pragmatic narrator, but her observations about life in America occasionally sting. During an argument, she observes that Americans behave as though, "You might cheat, steal, lie, but if you confessed, you could be instantly forgiven—as if the bravery it took to admit it made the thing itself all right."
For the most part, though, Freudenberger smoothes over superficial cultural differences, opting instead to focus on the more fundamental values that influence how George and Amina think. Amina isn't offended, for example, when George's cousin makes an insensitive comment about not wanting to adopt a brown baby, but she is baffled that Americans put their elderly family members in care facilities that are euphemistically known as "homes" instead of actually bringing them home, as she plans to do with her parents. Amina's struggle to relocate her parents to her three-bedroom house in the Rochester suburbs provides the book's primary source of conflict: George is reluctant to sacrifice his privacy to accommodate two ailing, foreign in-laws, but Amina is determined to help her parents, whose position in Bangladesh has become increasingly perilous. In following this throughline through two continents and a web of characters, The Newlyweds is at once personal in its storytelling and global in its insights.