Book Review: Love Marriage by Monica Ali

Love Marriage
by
Monica Ali

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I could not stop reading this book in which two families struggle to understand themselves and their relationships with each other. Set in London, Yasmin Ghorami is a doctor-in-training and her fiancé, Joe Sangster, is a practicing obstetrician. The story begins as Yasmin and Joe bring their parents together for the first time. Yasmin worries about the cultural divide between her parents, Anisah and Shaokat, and Joe’s mother, Harriet, an upper class liberal and outspoken feminist and writer. And Joe can only hope that Harriet will behave around Yasmin’s Muslim parents. Their dinner together unfolds nicely, but soon Harriet has taken over the wedding preparations, with Anisah’s full and enthusiastic approval, and much to Yasmin’s shock at the idea of a now-large and complicated religious ceremony. Readers may think they are settling in for a bit of a romantic comedy, but will soon discover a host of serious and complicated problems. Ali’s characters must undergo important and often painful transformations before they can find happiness.

The first problem: Joe and Yasmin. Joe tells her he wants to settle down, but he has secrets and must work through complex issues about sex and his unusually close relationship with Harriet. Yasmin loves Joe, but is there enough passion? Her limited dating experience is of no help. I like the way the author shows how the couple’s genuine love and affection for each other makes this problem all-the-more painful.

The second problem: Shaokat’s stubborn pride. Yasmin’s father became a doctor against all odds, but at a cost. Now, above everything, he wants Yasmin and her brother, Arif to succeed and his intense expectations work against him. Although Yasmin is on her way, she questions whether she really wants to be a doctor. Arif, unemployed and angry, locks horns with Shaokat who berates him about his lack of motivation. I was incredibly drawn into these simmering conflicts between fathers and their adult children. There are some powerful scenes between Shaokat and his children.

The third problem: Anisah and Shaokat’s marriage. Anisah seems satisfied in her role as wife, mother and homemaker, but when she meets Harriet, she sees a wider world and a chance at happiness she never considered. She shocks her family when she grabs it and Yasmin will learn hard truths about her parents’ early days.

I think the best part of the book is how what seems to be a simple story develops and reveals complex problems within and between its characters. All of Ali’s characters undergo major, often painful transformations. I liked how the author made me feel like I was getting to know the characters, just as if I had met them for the first time, and how my early impressions of them changed over time. Likewise, was my understanding of their relationships with each other, something you don’t understand until you know a person longer. The author does an especially great job portraying the Ghorami family, Arif in particular, and the unique problems they face as Muslims in London. I thought Arif’s transformation was one of the most interesting storylines in the book.

Love Marriage portrays a specific culture and relates it to how everyone experiences similar personal and family conflicts. This is both an entertaining and serious book and I recommend it to all readers who like stories about family and marriage.

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