Brick Lane Novel Summary by Monica Ali

Main Plot

The story of Brick Lane starts with the birth of Nazneen. She did not suck her mother’s milk for five days; still, she was not taken to the hospital by her mother, as she believed in fate. Only after five days, she started to take milk.

This is how she was “left to her fate”. Her younger sister, after attaining the age of 16 ran away with the nephew of the saw-mill owner. Her father waited for arrival to kill her. However, she did not return. Nazneen was married to Channu, a man of 40, in London.

Her husband would often consider her to be an ordinary girl and said-“A blind uncle is better than no uncle.” She is introduced to Mrs Islam, who tells that she is running a madrasa and “keeps her purdah in mind.” 

Nazneen makes friends with other women like Razia and Jorina. Razia becomes her best friend and both of them share their feelings with each other.

Razia also reveals that Mrs Islam runs a pub and her two sons are drug-addicts. She also tells Nazneen that Mrs Islam is a bad money-lender. Nazneen once happens to see ice-skating on television and desires to do it.

She also desires to go out but her husband forbids this idea on the ground that other people will talk badly about her. We are also introduced to Dr Azad; a Bangladeshi immigrant, who often pays a visit to Chanu. Chanu tells him how much-studied he is and also shows him his certificates. However, he could not get a good job.

Now he desires to return back to Bangladesh. Nazneen gives birth to a boy (Raqib). As he grows up, Chanu desires to provide him with cultural education so that he may not attain the bad habits of the west.

Mrs Islam desires to take away Raqib for some time, however, Nazneen resists. This is the first incident when Nazneen is seen resisting.

Raqib dies in hospital. After his death, Nazneen often goes into reminiscence. She thinks how she was left to her fate and compares her life with that of Raqib as in this case she challenged fate by taking him to hospital.

She also memorizes the time when her mother died. Her aunt Mumtaz told her that on that day, her mother had worn her best sari. Nazneen wonders why her mother wore her best sari.

After some years, Nazneen gives birth to two girls namely Shahana (the elder) and Bibi (the younger). As they grow up, Chanu starts teaching them the culture of Bangladesh.

Bibi takes a little bit interest, however, Shahana always reacts badly. But we do not find any violence in Chanu over his daughters. He just warns Shahana but does nothing.

Dr Azad never invites Chanu to his home and ultimately Chanu and Nazeen go there. They come to know that relations between Dr Azad and his wife are not good and his daughter is also on the wrong track. This is why Dr. Azad never invited them to his home.

Chanu resigns from his job without any reason and becomes a taxi-driver. He borrows the huge sum from Mrs Islam. He buys a computer, a sewing machine, and other household things. To meet expenses, Nazneen starts sewing business at home.

As Chanu is busy in the struggle for money, Karim enters into Nazneen’s life. Karim is a Bangladeshi immigrant. He feels difficulty in speaking a native language but speaks English without any problem.

He is also a member of a Bangladeshi Organisation meant for uplift and development of Bangladeshi culture. Both fall in love.

Karim makes Nazneen know herself and develops her personality. Despite Chanu’s restrictions, Nazneen attends Karim’s meetings. Karim often dominates his rivals during the meetings and Nazneen is quite impressed by him.

Gradually, Karim gives Nazneen opportunity to develop her mental capacity and she starts asking questions even to her husband who earlier just boasted his knowledge so as to downgrade others’ cognition.

As Chanu remains out of the house during the day, Mrs Islam starts coming to Nazneen to demand her money. Initially, Nazneen pays money on her every visit without asking any question. However, one day she decides not to pay any more.

On that day Mrs Islam comes with both of her sons. When Nazneen refuses to pay, her sons show violence by breaking household things. Nazneen remained determined and Mrs Islam ultimately goes away.

Initially, Nazneen was aware of the fact that Razia’s son was a drug addict but never dared to tell her. To buy drugs, he even started selling furniture. Now Razia becomes aware of it and thus Dr Azad starts his treatment.

Chanu makes preparation to leave for Bangladesh. On the last day, he takes his family on a picnic. Shahana decides to run away as she is not willing to go to Bangladesh.

On the night before departure, Nazneen tells Chanu that she is not going with him. Chanu agrees. Shahana runs away; however, with the help of Karim, Nazneen brings her back.

Chanu departs for Bangladesh. Nazneen gives up her relation with Karim. Razia and Nazneen’s daughters take her to someplace with her eyes closed.

On opening her eyes, Nazneen finds herself on the ice skating ground and on the advice of her daughters and Razia, she goes for it.

Sub Plot

The story of Hasina also runs with the main-plot simultaneously. Her letters to Nazneen are the source of information about her and about Bangladesh as well.

Through her letters, we come to know that the boy, with whom she eloped away, beats her often and Hasina ultimately runs away from him. She finds a job but her head Mr Chowdhary fires her out after being accused of having a relationship with a petty person.

Hasina, having no other option becomes a prostitute and later marries one of her customers (an Albino) on his insistence. However, after some months, their relations become worse and he starts roaring at her. Hasina again runs away and finds a job in a good family.

She is quite happy there. She narrates that her mistress is a kind lady. She is very concerned about her beauty. Hasina also tells Nazneen about household violence against women. E.g. a man throws acid on the face of his wife who later dies.

Thus on comparing both the stories, we find that fate really plays an important role in their lives. Hasina challenges her fate but suffers. Nazneen goes according to her fate and suffers but ultimately challenges it and becomes successful in following her desires.

Hasina, in spite of living in her native country never finds a permanent house there (In the end she even runs way with a cook from the house where she worked). However, Nazneen is quite settled in Brick Lane from beginning to end.

Important Questions

  • Chanu talks about various events in the history of Bangladesh but never mentions about its independence from Pakistan. Why?
  • Karim is a religious scholar and believes in Islam yet commits adultery but never repents. Nor Nazneen Repents. Why?
  • Initially, Nazneen reads Qur’an and seeks its guidance in every problem, but after falling in love with Karim, she never opens it (except for the event when Mrs Islam finally comes) Why?
  • Chanu often finds Karim in his house but never doubts him or his wife. How is it possible that he could not know about the affair of Karim and Nazneen?
  • Why Nazneen’s mother was wearing her best sari on her day of death?
  • Why Chanu never dared to beat his daughters?
  • How Chanu accepts the fact that Nazneen wants to stay in England and does not force her to go with him?