Saturday, January 31, 2009

book review: the groom to have been

the groom to have been by saher alam is a fascinating, educating, fun read. i picked it up expecting something lighthearted and silly, since the cover describes it as 'a love story inspired by the age of innocence'. i've never read any edith wharton, but that description led me to believe that the book might be a comedy of manners. that description is misleading. this isn't a silly book at all, and it isn't a comedy of manners. it's a serious, interesting look at life as an idian-muslim immigrant in north america.

nasr, the protagonist, is looking for a wife. he wants a woman who can teach his children urdu, get along with his family and engage him, personally. obviously this woman is not to be found in a new york nightclub, so he enlists his mother, to her delight, to search for an appropriate bride for him. eventually the right woman is found and the wedding plans commence.

a few things make this book interesting and unique: nasr was raised in canada and is thoroughly (north) americanized, but respects his culture's traditions. he has to balance his western-ness with his eastern-ness, and the two sides often conflict. with his friends from work he goes to a bar and has a few beer, with his mother he eats halal and speaks urdu. nasr has to let go of the idea of romantic love in order to marry a stranger. also, he often has to translate his parents' culture to his friends, and in doing so explains it to the reader. arranged marriages, which seem so bizarre and outdated to me, begin to make sense when seen through his eyes. again and again customs that i had previously not understood or possibly even heard of are explained. ms. alam's writing is so elegant that this vast exposition of a culture isn't textbook-y or dense. rather, every so often i would realize that she had just taught me something new when i wasn't even aware that i was being taught. this author has not just grasped the concept of 'show, don't tell', she has mastered it.

the subjects that are touched upon are varied and often serious. life as a muslim in new york right after 9/11, the ongoing struggle to balance duty and desire, feminism and personal politics within islam, the deceptions that families build their lives on, being the victim of racism and hate crimes - it's all there, and more, eloquently expressed.

this is a book of generous depth and vibrant colour. i found reading it to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. i highly recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment