Nell Freudenberger’s rich, wise, bighearted novel The Newlyweds concerns a young woman who leaves her family in Bangladesh to live in America as the wife of a man she met on the Internet. ”You’re so much more sensible than other women,” George tells Amina as she sets up housekeeping with him in his new house in Rochester, N.Y. Amina is sensible, yes, as well as thrifty, hardworking, and pious (she wants a proper Muslim wedding in a Rochester mosque, with no objection from her Christian husband-to-be). She’s also devoted to her parents back home and, as an only child, longs for the day they can move to Rochester too. But Amina is no docile mail-order bride, and George is no easy stereotype either. Each harbors complications, secrets, desires, disappointments — complications the thirtysomething author probes with a clarity of language and empathy of soul that make her one of the most perceptive and least mannered younger storytellers working today.
An experienced traveler throughout Asia who has taught in Thailand, Freudenberger found her inspiration for The Newlyweds in a chance airplane encounter with a woman who was herself bound for an Internet-facilitated marriage to an American man; that new bride, now a friend, gave permission for her life story to be absorbed into fiction. And in return, the writer works with care and respect, giving a full voice to every Deshi aunt, American cousin, and passing employee at the Starbucks where Amina finds a job. Freudenberger moves gracefully between South Asian fantasies of American life and the realities of bone-cold, snow-prone upstate New York — and turns the coming together of newlyweds Amina and George into a readers’ banquet. A