The Newlyweds is about an inter-racial, cross-cultural marriage between George, an American 30-something man who has held off on marriage in hopes of finding a different but non-complicated woman, and Amina, an educated 24-year-old Bangladeshi looking for a way out of her impoverished country for herself and her immediate family. They meet through an internet site and after months of email exchanges, George goes to Bangladesh to meet her family, reluctantly agree to convert to Islam, and bring home his bride-to-be. George is enamored of Amina, but Amina is busy setting her timetable for achieving U.S. citizenship, to be followed by getting pregnant and bringing her parents home to live with her, Bangladeshi-style.
We are given the makings of a fascinating exploration of relationships and culture clash which, alas, is never realized. Instead, we are given boring details of Amina’s search for a job which never develops into anything of real interest; her sexual disinterest in George; her community college class which never develops into anything of real interest, and details about other characters’ lives which appear both incidental and also not very interesting. Indeed, The Newlyweds, at least in the first part of the book, takes on the quality of a soap opera: she seeks the friendship of George’s non-conformist cousin Kim, only to discover that George and Kim had had an affair during George and Amina’s long-distance courtship that had led to a quickly-aborted pregnancy. Feeling betrayed, Amina returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents back to the U.S. While there, she gets embroiled in a violent feud among her father’s relatives and flirts with the idea of a quick love affair with her cousin.
Amina never attempts to fall in love with George, nor does she plan to leave him, as he is her golden ticket to an American life for herself and her parents. And so what sympathy I had for her character at the beginning of the book quickly dims, and by the end, it is George I find myself sympathizing with. Freudenberger’s attempted depiction of Bangladesh is interesting in part, but is quickly colored over by the petty feuding, criminality and violence she presents as somehow typically Bangladeshi in the latter part of her book. By the time the story ended, I was thoroughly disinterested in Amina’s marriage. In fact, I found more honest emotion and real poignancy in a short story called “The Thing Around Your Neck” by Ngozi Adichie, about a Nigerian woman newly arrived in America, and her inability to mesh American and African cultural values during an attempted romance with an American man. If this theme interests you, try reading Ngozi Adichie’s short story collection and leave The Newlyweds alone.