Monica Ali's 'Love Marriage': A tale of love across two cultures
Love Marriage (Simon & Schuster, 2022), Monica Ali's latest novel, is set in contemporary London, and the city, along with its concurrent glory, glides in the background as a couple endeavours to bring their families together for their wedding.
Joe, a young British doctor, has fallen head over heels for Yasmin, a fellow doctor of Indian origin. As they attempt to unite their families, Yasmin begins to fret over the first meeting. Her mother has been preparing Indian food for the last two days for their visit to Primrose Hill and Yasmin cannot help but wonder how the rendezvous is going to turn out. Harriet Sangster, Joe's mother, is a woman of prominence, known for her undisguised approaches on feminism and women empowerment. She is an outspoken author known for her "self-indulgent" memoirs, a perceptible contrast to the Ghoramis, who have lived a typical life of order and silence ever since Shaokat Ghorami moved to London from Kolkata with his wife Anisah. Yet their greatest difference is, as Monica Ali writes, "Whatever Harriet really thought about Shaokat and Anisah would be cloaked by English manners and didn't even matter anyway. The English middle classes did not meddle in their children's matrimonial affairs."
As Ali strikingly presents the contrasts between how families function across cultures, the novel slithers over issues such as race, gender bias, identity, modern relationships, trust and infidelity. In contrast to Yasmin's distress, the meeting between the Sangsters and the Ghoramis turns out quite well. Problems materialise when wedding preparations begin and Harriet, Joe's overpowering mother, takes charge of everything. Despite this, an unusual bond is seen to form between the two women, the flamboyant Harriet Sangster and the modest Anisah Ghorami, which not only takes Yasmin by surprise but also threatens the normalcy of her life and filial relationships. Yasmin discovers an unexpected side of her homemaker mother, who not only shows a sudden interest in Greek plays, but actively promotes many of Harriet's pursuits. A mutual understanding evolves between the two and as the moth turns into a butterfly, Yasmin confronts a more independent Anisah Ghorami.
The plot traverses between several narratives where we see consequent changes in perspectives, with Ali bringing in each character with equal care and attention. Shaokat Ghorami is a proud and dignified doctor who has worked hard his entire life to leave the clasp of poverty and ensure that his children have well-to-do careers just like him. Anisah is a dutiful housewife who has dedicated her life to helping others and making infinite jars of chutneys. She carries the old-day charm of a Kolkata girl who drapes a saree whenever she can along with her brightly coloured cardigans. And then there's Arif, Yasmin's younger brother, a Sociology graduate who just about exists in the Ghorami household, remaining confined to his room for hours, idling his time away. His disorientation and lack of ambition are the cause of constant rifts with his father and his ultimate decision to leave is part of the many twists and turns in the story. As both Arif and Anisah abandon the house, Yasmin is torn between her lonely father, her suddenly rebellious mother, Harriet, and the love of her life, Joe. What begins as a social comedy goes on to reveal many secrets and undeniable truths; readers cannot help but relate to the Ghoramis and the Sangsters in the end, as they consequently present the skeletons in the cupboard.
Monica Ali, acclaimed author of Brick Lane (2003), with her talent for spinning tales, introduces some more elements of surprise and leaves readers wondering about the fate of each of the characters who are constantly fighting their own battles both internally and externally. There is desire, infidelity and betrayal and as Yasmin stands on tenterhooks, contemplating the fate of her loved ones along with her own, readers get a picture of what modern day relationships look like across cultures and countries.
Monica Ali's Love Marriage is available for purchase at Omni Books, Dhanmondi, Dhaka.
Shejuti Pasha has recently graduated from ULAB with a Master's in English Literature and Creative Writing. You can reach her at [email protected]