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the ledge - nl - uk
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 20 Oct. 1967 • British-Bengali novelist
photo: Michael Oreal
|It's not often that a first novel by an unknown author is shortlisted for a major prize, sells half a million copies, and goes on to win a fat contract with Bollywood. But such was the fate of Brick Lane, written by a 36-year-old mother of two, whose manuscript so captivated the editors of Britain's literary magazine Granta that they named its author one of England's best young writers before its publisher had even typeset the pages. And little wonder: her story was a winning combination of family epic and serious cultural issues, set in a Bangladeshi community of London, starring a young bride fresh from the old country and a husband twice her age - with the irresistible face of a frog.
Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, the child of an Englishwoman and a Bengali civil servant. The two had met at a dance in a little mill town in Northern England, where her father was attending school during the mid-'60s. The newlyweds went off to start a life together in Bangladesh, but when their daughter was 3 and civil war broke out in the streets, they quickly returned to the English village of Bolton. Unable to find work, her father eventually opened a shop that sold knick-knacks, porcelain figurines and cheap jewelry.
Young Ali read voraciously - Austen,
| Tolstoy and the great Indian writer Narayan - but she wasn't particularly interested in writing. She went on to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University. After that, she drifted into marketing jobs at small publishing houses and a short stint in a design firm, but before long, she was married to a management consultant and busily mothering two tiny children. She began scribbling stories during her spare time and then, quite impulsively, decided to take a writing course on the Internet. 'It was an informal sort of thing,' she says, 'with aspiring writers from Nottingham to Australia, and a moderator. They critiqued your work online. And my! They could be vicious! I didn't learn how to write. But I certainly learned how not to write.'
After the solid success of Brick Lane, she moved quickly to deliver the second book in her contract. Published in June, 2006, Alentejo Blue is a collection of stories set in a whitewashed little village on the sunbaked plains of south Portugal. A radical departure from her first book, it suggests that she is a writer who is as interested in observing other cultures as she is in closely documenting her own.
|BOOKS BY MONICA ALI:|
Nazneen leaves her Bangladeshi village and is sent to London to marry an older man who lives in Brick Lane. There she observes her neighbors; raises a family; learns to love the kind, ineffectual man she married - and finds a new love that forces her to make choices for the first time.
Monica Ali's second book is a collection of stories set in the Alentejo province of Portugal, linked by characters and by a vivid sense of place and time.
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