Brick Lane Book

Step into the vibrant and colourful world of Monica Ali's Brick Lane (2003), where a young Bangladeshi woman named Nazneen navigates the complexities of culture, identity, and love in modern-day London. Follow her journey as she balances the expectations of her traditional community with her own desires, and meets the charismatic Karim, who opens her eyes to a new perspective. Discover the rich themes of assimilation, independence, and belonging that capture the stories of many British immigrants in the UK.

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Table of contents

    Brick Lane: Monica Ali

    Brick Lane is British writer Monica Ali's (1967-present) first-ever novel. Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1967 to a Bangladeshi father and an English mother. At a young age, her family moved to England, where she and her father had to adapt to British culture as immigrants. Therefore, it is no surprise that her first novel traces some of the experiences and hardships faced by her own family's life and many other people in England's Bangladeshi community where she grew up.

    In 2003, Ali was listed as one of the 'Best of Young British Novelists' by Granta magazine for the manuscript of Brick Lane. Although Brick Lane is her most popular novel, she has published five other books:

    • Alentejo Blue (2006) is about a rural village in Portugal.
    • In the Kitchen (2009) details a murder mystery in the kitchen of a popular hotel.
    • Untold Story (2011) imagines the life of Princess Diana, who fakes her death in a car accident in 1997 to escape the Royal Family and live in America.
    • Love Marriage (2022), her most recent novel, is a love story of two young doctors- one with traditional Indian Muslim parents, and the other with a mother who is a radical feminist.

    Much like Brick Lane, all of Monica Ali's novels explore the multiculturalism and diversity of Britain.

    Brick Lane book characters

    Brick Lane brings forth many dynamic and well-rounded characters. They are both deeply flawed and complicated but are simultaneously human and therefore sympathise-able.

    Character nameCharacter description

    Nazneen is the protagonist in the book. She was born in a small village in Bangladesh and spent her childhood there. She is a religious Muslim girl with a shy and timid demeanour.

    She moves to England when she is 18 after agreeing to a marriage to Chanu that her parents arranged. She is the sister of Hasina and the pair communicate through letters in the novel. She is the mother of Raqib (who dies at a young age), Shahana and Bibi.


    Chanu is a middle-aged man of Bangladeshi heritage who lives in East London. He is well educated -holding a degree in English literature- and takes pride in it. He enters an arranged marriage with Nazneen when he is 40 years old. He works as a low-level civil servant but later quits and works as a cab driver when he realises his career isn't progressing.

    As a practising Muslim, Chanu faces social disadvantages that stop him from networking, such as when he cannot join his colleagues for drinks after work. He returns to Bangladesh alone with plans of entering the soap business.


    Hasina is Nazneen’s younger sister. She is a young and beautiful woman with a fiery temperament. She goes against her parent's wishes when she has a love marriage and elopes with her lover.

    After her first marriage ends badly, she struggles to be an independent woman in Bangladesh, often in and out of relationships and without stable employment. She writes to Nazneen, sharing details of her life.


    Karim is a passionate young man and a second-generation Bangladeshi immigrant. He meets Nazneen when he delivers fabrics to her and later enters into an affair with her.

    He is politically ambitious and forms a neighbourhood association of Bangladeshi Muslims called the Bengal Tigers.


    Razia is Nazneen’s closest friend and neighbour. She is a fun and kindhearted girl and is a Muslim with a Bangladeshi heritage. Razia has an entrepreneurial spirit (she starts her own sewing business after her husband dies) which later inspires Nazneen to earn a living for herself.

    Dr Azad

    Dr Azad is a local doctor and a well-respected member of the Brick Lane community. He is friends with Chanu and often listens to Chanu bragging about his education. He is a small man with a gentle disposition.

    He is worried about the development of heroin addiction among young Bangladeshi men in the community.


    Hamid is Nazneen’s father. He owns a paddy field in a small village in Bangladesh. He is a harsh and cold man, who is unfaithful to his wife. He becomes furious when Hasina elopes with her lover. He arranges for Nazneen to get married to Chanu so she can live with him in London.

    Mrs Islam

    Mrs Islam is a wealthy older woman in the Brick Lane community. She often visits Nazneen in her flat. She is a loan shark and lends money to Chanu. When he isn't able to pay her back on time she resorts to threats and demands interest on the money she is owed.


    Shahana is Nazneen and Chanu’s older daughter. She is not afraid to voice her opinion and often makes Chanu angry by questioning him. #

    She has a tendency to kick anyone in her family if they upset her. When Chanu is preparing to leave for Bangladesh she chooses to run away from home in protest.


    Rupban is the mother of Nazneen and Hasina. She lives an unhappy life and often suffers alone, as she doesn’t know how to discuss her issues with other people in her life. In a letter from Hasina, it is revealed that Rupban committed suicide.

    Brick Lane book summary

    Brick Lane is a fiction novel that has been categorised as literary fiction. It’s a contemporary novel that focuses on Muslim communities and so it is often classed as British Immigrant fiction. Brick Lane stands out as a novel in its exploration of the lives of Muslim women who have immigrated to England as well as those who have stayed in Bangladesh.

    Brick Lane is set in the years after the 9/11 attacks in the United States of America in 2001, by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda. Therefore, the book carries traces of the racial tensions and hostile attitudes projected towards all Muslim communities by the rest of the world, including Britain.

    Brick Lane also fits into the genre of an epistolary novel because of the letters between Nazneen and Hasina. An epistolary novel is written in the form of letters exchanged between characters, diary excerpts, documents, or emails.

    Chapters One - Three

    The novel starts in 1967 in a small village in Bangladesh. Rupban gives birth to her first daughter Nazneen, under unexpected circumstances of premature labour. As a baby, Nazneen is delicate and weak. A few years later, Rubpan and her husband Hamid have their second daughter Hasina.

    Despite their similar age, Nazneen and Hasina have polar opposite personalities. Nazneen’s father Hamid chooses a husband for her, a man named Chanu who is much older than her and quite unattractive.

    The setting later shifts to London in the year 1985. Nazneen has joined Chanu to live in their apartment located in a working-class neighbourhood of East London. Being halfway across the world from her family, Nazneen feels alone and isolated in her new home.

    The novel's title Brick Lane is the name of an actual street in East London, which is often titled 'Banglatown', the heart of England's Bangladeshi community. Even today, the majority of the Brick Lane residents are Sylheti Bengalis from Bangladesh, who migrated and settled in the area in the 20th century.

    The street derived its name as the area is famous for its brick-and-tile manufacturing, which served as the main attraction for skilled and unskilled labour.

    Hasina chooses to marry Malek, a man that she has fallen in love with (her marriage is on opposite terms to Nazneen's) despite her parents’ refusal. Hasina communicates with Nazneen through a series of letters, and they keep up to date with each other’s lives this way.

    Chapters Four - Six

    Chanu often speculates about how he can advance his career and become more established and respected in the community. Many of Chanu’s ambitions are unrealistic but he is too lost in the pursuit of frivolous goals to see the truth of his situation.

    Nazneen becomes friends with Razia, a woman of Bangladeshi descent and of similar age. Razia often gossips about people in the local community with Nazneen, she even conspires that Mrs. Islam is a secret loan shark, which causes anxiety for Nazneen. Razia is soon faced with the devastating news about the death of her husband in a workplace accident.

    Chapters Seven - Nine

    In 2001, Nazneen has two daughters, Shahana and Bibi, whom she raises in the same East London flat. The family struggles to make ends meet since Chanu struggles to hold down a job. Nazneen suggests that she could work by sewing clothes, Chanu is reluctant at first but finally agrees and purchases a sewing machine.

    Chanu’s ambitions of living as a wealthy and respected citizen have been crushed at this point and his financial situation has become desperate. He settles with a new job as a cab driver. A young man named Karim begins delivering fabric to the flat.

    Chapters Ten - Thirteen

    One day Karim invites Nazneen to a political meeting, which leads to the formation of a political group named the Bengal Tigers. The group preach social advocacy and aim to support the community, but it’s driven by underlying anger towards racist groups.

    With his new job as a cab driver, Chanu is rarely at home, which creates a much calmer atmosphere for Nazneen and her daughters. One day Chanu finds racist pamphlets at his front door which strengthens his resolve to leave London.

    The Bengal Tigers elected Karim as their chairman, he takes his role seriously and is respected by the community. After the meeting, Karim meets Nazneen in her flat where one thing leads to another and they make love for the first time.

    Chapters Fourteen - Sixteen

    Optimistic and joyful about returning to his homeland, Chanu decides to take the family or a sightseeing trip around London. He becomes increasingly desperate for money, which makes Nazneen realise that perhaps for the first time, Chanu is actually serious about a goal of his.

    Nazneen can’t stop thinking about Karim, her mixed emotions about him keep her emotionally unstable. She feels a deep sense of shame for breaking the rules of her religion while at the same time, she feels intense happiness when she is with Karim. Nazneen's feelings of guilt eventually cause her to collapse after having a breakdown.

    The Bengal Tigers group begins to stagnate, so Karim arranges another meeting in hopes of reigniting the group.

    The entire Brick Lane community was in shock after hearing the news of the events which took place on September 11 2001, which provoked a strong anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK.

    Chapters Seventeen - Twenty one

    People in the Brick Lane community become angry after a local Bangladeshi boy is stabbed. Karim is interested in the opportunity to organise a march to protest the stabbing. Shortly after, an anti-Muslim protest is organised by an English nationalist group. In response, Karim arranges a meeting for the Bengal Tigers, which Nazneen and Chanu choose to attend.

    Nazneen sewing brick lane study smarterFig. 1 - Nazneen sewing to earn a living

    Nazneen lets Karim know that his marriage proposal isn't realistic and she doesn't believe it would be successful. Nazneen recalls memories of her mother and how she often concealed her issues and rarely spoke about them.

    Chanu decides to borrow money from Dr Azad to pay for the aeroplane tickets to Bangladesh. Chanu is determined and ready for the move, he has even planned out his entry into the soap business once he arrives.

    Nazneen and her daughters chose to stay in the UK, leaving Chanu to fly out alone. Nazneen starts working for Razia in her sewing business to support the family. Despite not having a man to support her anymore, Nazneen cherishes her independence and is hopeful about the future.

    Brick Lane: themes and analysis

    The themes in Brick Lane demonstrate the text's genre as a postcolonial novel because they explore the impact of British Imperialism on countries such as Bangladeshi.

    • Identity: The novel explores the concept of identity and how it is shaped by various factors such as culture, heritage, and personal experiences. The protagonist, Nazneen, struggles with her identity as a Bangladeshi immigrant living in London, and her journey to discover her true self forms a central theme of the novel.
    • Cultural Clash: The clash between different cultures is another major theme in the novel. Nazneen's arrival in London exposes her to a new way of life that is vastly different from her traditional upbringing in Bangladesh. She faces the challenge of navigating this new culture and finding a balance between her old and new way of life.
    • The Immigrant Experience: Brick Lane also explores the experiences of immigrants in a new country, including the challenges they face in adapting to a new way of life, the discrimination they may encounter, and the sense of dislocation and alienation that often accompanies the immigrant experience.
    • Gender Roles: The novel also examines the traditional gender roles that are prevalent in Bangladeshi society and how they are challenged by the changing times and new environments. Nazneen's relationship with her husband, Chanu, and her growing independence throughout the novel reflect the shifting gender roles and expectations of women in both Bangladeshi and Western societies.
    • The Role of Community: Community and the sense of belonging are significant themes in the novel. The close-knit Bangladeshi community in Brick Lane provides a sense of comfort and familiarity for Nazneen, but it also poses challenges and limitations as she struggles to find her place within it.

    Brick Lane: quotes

    Here are some of the most vivid and descriptive quotes from Brick Lane, each of which gives us insight into the psychology, emotions and character development of its characters, especially the protagonist Nazneen. They also introduce us to the dominant themes and ideas of Ali's book, such as gender inequality, religion and the intersection between Bangladeshi and British cultures.

    Brick Lane makes use of a third-person narrative that generally follows Nazneen and her story. The letters that are written between Nazneen and Hasina introduce the first-person aspect of the story.

    They could not see her any more than she could see God. They knew she existed (just as she knew that He existed) but unless she did something, waved a gun, halted the traffic, they would not see her." - Chapter 1

    This quote illustrates how Nazneen described herself when she walked around London for the first time. Despite walking through streets full of people and traffic she still feels invisible to some extent. The rush of city life means that everyone is preoccupied with their own lives, and has no concern for a low-status woman of colour.

    This moment was a stark reminder for Nazneen that she was no longer in her small hometown village in Bangladesh. This sense of anonymity also helps Nazneen feel free in a way she isn’t used to, she can move independently through the city and no one can stop her from doing so.

    If God wanted us to ask questions, he would have made us men." - Chapter 3.

    This quote is Rupban’s response to a question from Nazneen about her father. This quote illustrates the typical gender roles that exist in Bangladesh, where men typically have the freedom to live how they want and can assert their power while women live in the shadows and lead private lives in their homes. Nazneen lived to the standard of these gender roles for most of her life by being subservient and accepting the command of the men in her life, whether it be her father or her husband.

    Alternatively, Hasina is more rebellious and lives her life to her standards but this doesn't end well. Hasina soon learns to accept that her position as a woman in Bangladesh means that she is often powerless and her life is controlled by men- her struggle to become financially independent supports this point.

    All you have to do, he [Chanu] said, is sit there."- Chapter 9

    This is a quote that Chanu says to Nazneen after he purchases a sewing machine for her to start working with. It reveals Chanu’s ignorance about the work that women have to do and that it requires skill and hard work. He thinks that he deserves praise for doing the hard work of buying the sewing machine when in reality Nazneen will have to spend hours working so she can earn money for the family.

    I wasn't me, and you weren't you. From the very beginning to the very end, we didn't see things. What we did--we made each other up." - Chapter 20

    Nazneen Karim talking kitchen brick lane study smarter

    Fig. 2 - Nazneen and Karim talking in the kitchen

    This quote describes how Nazneen felt after ending her affair with Karim. She realises that the love she thought had for him was illusory because it was built on her idea of Karim being her perfect lover, instead of seeing him as he truly is. In many ways, Karim represents the antithesis of Chanu for Nazneen, since he is youthful and optimistic. Entering the relationship was a choice Nazneen could make herself, unlike her marriage to Chanu.

    Karim’s interest in Nazneen was based on his idealisation of her as a pure and unspoilt village girl from his motherland, which stopped him from seeing her as an individual with her own outlook on life.

    Their lack of communication meant that they both projected ideals on each other that didn’t exist, and their affection for each other came crashing down after they realised it.

    All the images in this article have been taken from the 2007 film adaptation, which was the first movie directed by Sarah Gavron.

    Brick Lane Book - Key takeaways

    • Brick Lane is a novel that tells the story of British immigrants and their struggle to assimilate into British culture.

    • Brick Lane is Bangladeshi-British writer Monica Ali's debut novel, for which she was listed as one of the 'Best of Young British Novelists' by Granta magazine in 2003.

    • The challenges that women face as immigrants in the UK and Bangladeshi society are told through characters such as Nazneen, Hasina and Razia.

    • Issues of institutional racism are explored with the characters of Chanu and Karim. Chanu decides to leave the UK while Karim takes a more active role by forming a political group.

    • The protagonist Nazneen develops throughout the novel from a timid and reserved girl into a confident woman that provides for her family and takes control of her future.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Brick Lane Book

    What is the message of 'Brick Lane'?

    'Brick Lane' is a novel about cultural dislocation and the loss of self. The novel explores what happens to Nazneen and Chanu’s identity as they try to maintain their cultural and religious traditions from Bangladesh while making lives for themselves in London. 

    Who is the author of the novel 'Brick Lane'?

    Monica Ali is the author of the novel 'Brick Lane', which was her debut novel published in 2003. 

    What genre is 'Brick Lane' by Monica Ali?

    'Brick Lane' is a fictional novel, categorised as literary fiction, a contemporary novel, an epistolary novel and British Immigrant fiction. 

    What is the theme of 'Brick Lane'?

    The theme of Brick Lane is love which appears in several types of relationships between characters; parent-child, arranged marriages, devotion towards family. Themes of Bangladeshi immigrant experience and multiculturalism in London are a distinct thread in the novel. 

    What two countries are predominantly featured in 'Brick Lane'?

    The UK and Bangladesh. 

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