by Patricia Daniel
I'd recommend the film Brick Lane based on Monica Ali's book (which I haven't read).
It's a salutary reminder of the everyday violence which is visited on so many women because decisions about their future, their behaviour and their aspirations, are made by other people - family, community, religious representatives and so on. No wonder the making of the film caused a little controversy among those same (male) community leaders in Brick Lane.
[ warning: spoilers] This is the story of a young girl from a Bangladeshi village, sold and sent away in marriage to an older, overweight, overbearing, underachieving yet pretentious Bengali man in the east end of London - leaving her beloved sister and playmate behind for ever. She spends sixteen years in wifely submission, mothering two wayward modern British Asian daughters, all the while dreaming of a return to her childhood home. Suddenly she meets a young man with whom, for the first time, she experiences erotic reciprocal joyful sex. At the same time her husband finds the money to pay for the family to go back to Bangladesh.
Despite her reticent, modest and conventional demeanour, our heroine is no cipher and the dénouement is unexpected. She turns down the young lover who wants to marry her, telling him that, after all, what was important about their love affair was that it made her feel ‘like being at home' - it had taken her back to the eternal spring of youth, the endless blossoming of the Bangladeshi landscape. She realises now that, with all his faults, life with her husband was like ‘grit in the oyster' - which over the years had become ‘a pearl of love'. Yet she turns him down too, deciding to stay in Brick Lane with her daughters: it's a sign of the respect she has earned from her husband that he accepts this decision.
The closing shot shows her playing in the city snow with her daughters. In the end she understands: ‘I had been seeking for a place which I had already found'.
Now, this poignancy is not new to me. More than twenty years ago, I used to work in adult education in that area of London and once visited a Bangladeshi family on the top floor of one of those dreadful tower blocks of flats. The lady of the house - I'm sure with a similar history - took me out onto the balcony in the grey light of winter and we looked over to the dead grass verge far below us, which bordered the complex. She told me she missed her garden back home, so she had planted onions down there.
I'm not saying that it's ever right to put grit in the oyster. I am saying that Monica Ali is right to celebrate woman's capacity to create something beautiful and meaningful - that truly belongs to her - out of external intervention, disappointment and pain.