Yasmin Ghorami in twenty-six, in training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father), and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother, Harriet, is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast. So, too, is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe.

As the wedding day draws near, misunderstandings, infidelities, and long-held secrets upend both Yasmin’s relationship and that of her parents, a “love marriage,” according to the family lore that Yasmin has believed all her life.

A gloriously acute observer of class, sexual mores, and the mysteries of the human heart, Monica Ali has written a captivating social comedy and a profoundly moving, revelatory story of two cultures, two families, and two people trying to understand one another.

Published by Scribner in May 2022!

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Love holds half the weight of the term ‘love marriage’ but is love truly enough to balance the other half of a locution that has been ingrained in South Asian mindsets as an utterance either meant to be annihilated or desperately aspired. The Ghoramis, a British-Indian family, have already met the highest level of ‘modernity’ that a desi immigrant in a suburban London home inevitably hopes to chase—Yasmin’s father, an anglicised and proud doctor, and mother, a kind-hearted home-maker, had bravely left the expected arranged marriage route in their time to unite through a love marriage. Understandably, they’re legends to their second generation children. 

Yasmin is a trained doctor spending most of her time in the geriatric wards of a hospital. She is engaged to a fellow doctor, Joe, who is simply perfect: intelligent, kind, charming—the son of a rich feminist author and activist, Harriet Sangster, who is best known for posing nude in the 70s. Clearly, the two families are different. The Ghoramis are poised with Shaokat, the demanding father, being proud of his emergence from poverty and for integrating so well into a new culture, and Anisah, being the quiet Muslim woman and an excellent cook who holds her beliefs close. The Sangsters are delicately clinging on to the newfangled habits they’ve long kept, whether it’s Joe’s mother wandering into his bathroom while he’s showering or Harriet herself being an outlandish comic figure too flamboyant for even her own son. 

But why should the families represent the two love birds who are finding themselves again as the self-images they adorned are slowly unravelling? This fifth novel by the author of the bestselling debut, Brick Lane, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize, makes you wonder if the decision to marry can simply be sealed by a meet-the-parents event drenched in hilarity—especially when the laughs come at the expense of an immigrant mother’s wonky grammar—where a subtly domineering mother of Joe corners his fiance into planning a Muslim wedding against the bride’s own will to simply climb a ladder of western liberalism. 

So it is a love marriage.

Yasmin and Joe’s relationship doesn’t depend on their families or their clashing cultures. But the growing weight of secrets and a haunted past in the Ghorami family, and the straining unnaturality of the mother-son duo in the Sangster family will upset the essence of the two ‘lovers’ raise a different opinion. As Yasmin finds herself lost in a chaotic dementia ward and navigates misleading legacies in a home occupied by her increasingly hard-drinking father and a discontented, uncertain brother attempting to define his faith; and as Joe finds himself sitting across a psychiatrist recounting the dysfunctional relationship he shares with his mother and infidelity, it’s impossible to not worry: would this really be a love marriage? 

With a storytelling that details the ordinary lives of decent people and a prose that exposes the dark difficulties faced by these ordinary people trying to live decently, Love Marriage doesn’t flaunt the extravagance it holds as an engaging fiction and instead rightfully lets it simply be—for you to mark it with everything it really is, from the stacks of Tupperware to the metropolitan liberal shenanigans. Whether it’s Joe fighting his addiction, Yasmin resenting the intergenerational pain that inevitably gets passed down, Anisah letting her friendship with Harriet blossom, or a patient that asks for a British doctor when attended by Yasmin, everything will comment on gender, race, class, and religion through explorations of passion, family, morality, and heart. 

Ordinary yet extravagant; definitely dramatic.

Overall, Love Marriage impresses with how remarkably it sets up a perfect backdrop of the everyday—true to the diaspora— for powerful, ordinary questions around societal expectations, self-discovery, interracial relationships, multiculturalism, and the push and pull between religious and rebellious identities; ultimately lacing this multifaceted tale with humour, sympathy, and plain understanding.

my rating ↣ ★★★★★

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN


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One thought on “Book Review: Love Marriage by Monica Ali

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