What struck me right away about this book is how well-drawn the two main characters are. Amina is our protagonist, and she’s this remarkable mix of naiveté and insight. George, her husband, is also complex. Just when I thought it would be easy to dislike him, he shows his remarkable human-ness. Kim is probably the best (and most important) supporting character. Freudenberger makes her condescension a by-product of her sadness rather than arrogance. Nasir, back home in Bangladesh, is also a subtle creation. I felt like I knew these people – their strengths and their flaws. No one is pure or blameless here; nor is anyone (even Amina’s father, who comes as close to a stock character as anyone we meet). Freudenberger makes it difficult to judge and does not seem to judge herself. She just – deliberately and subtly – presents a situation that entangles these four (and others) and lets it unravel slowly.
I only had two moments where I would have advised Freudenberger to take things more slowly. The first comes when Amina finds (too quickly and easily, I think) George’s secret in the United States. The second is Amina’s effort to discover Nasir’s secret in Bangladesh.
And Bangladesh is, itself, a character. Though Freudenberger does not seem inclined to gloss over what goes on there, she made me want to travel there, not like Kim, but with Amina.
A wonderful novel.