A young woman details an intense first love in this emotional debut novel.
Two months before a planned around-the-world adventure, the narrator meets a friend’s childhood neighbor, a handsome man who quickly sweeps her off her feet. She cuts short her trip to live near him in Melbourne while they both study at the university. In between flashbacks of her childhood in conservative Bangladesh, including the death of her father, the narrator unveils the slow disintegration of her romance. Rather than villainizing her boyfriend (and later fiancé), she offers a balanced view. At turns, he’s sweet and thoughtful, bringing her roses for her birthday or buying her dinner at a favorite restaurant. But increasingly he becomes controlling and abusive, insisting that she stop seeing friends, slapping her and criticizing her family and her looks. The narrator admits her own role in trying to become the perfect girlfriend—buying him expensive gifts, slavishly cooking and cleaning and studying while he sleeps. She understands that relationships require some compromise, but she’s unsure of the degree required. Despite the textbook signs of a toxic relationship, it’s not until after a lavish engagement party in the fifth year of their relationship that the narrator begins weighing potential family shame and her deeply rooted fear of loneliness against the loss of herself if she marries this man. The lack of names for the couple beyond the generic “baby” and “sweetheart,” along with the first-person point of view, make the story read more like a diary—or a psychological case study—than a novel. While the dialogue is occasionally stilted and often overdramatic, the emotional core of the book rings true. Unfortunately, the abrupt ending robs the reader of a comforting sense of closure.
A readable cautionary tale of first love and the boundaries of forgiveness and self-esteem.