The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger Knopf Nell Freudenberger was declared one of Granta's best young American novelists in 2007. In 2010, she was named one of The New Yorker's '20 under 40' authors to watch. She is an author of two previous books, one of which is an award-winning short story collection. Clearly, the expectations for her third book, The Newlyweds, run high. It tells the story of Amina Mazid, who at 24 moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York, for marriage. In a technologically advanced age, this is 'arranged marriage' with a twist as Amina and her suitor seek out each other online via a dating portal, get acquainted through e-mails, and conduct a tentative romance before the betrothal and emigration. Freudenberger has tackled the theme of cultural identity in both her previous works. After graduating from Harvard she travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, The Dissident, centred on a Chinese performance artist and former political prisoner who travels to Los Angeles to accept a teaching fellowship at a prestigious girls' school. Her short story collection, Lucky Girls, has five novellas set in Southeast Asia and on the Indian subcontinent, narrated by young expatriate women who find themselves in unfamiliar places. In her third book, once again, her protagonist faces an alien culture which uncovers her vulnerability, and, even as she learns the new rules of her adoptive homeland, the tug of her native place strengthens. At an early age, Amina's parents decided that their daughter would go abroad and from that point onward their lives were dictated by that fiat: her parents' sacrifice to send her to an English medium school, mother-daughter staking out the British Council in preparation for the O levels, serial applications to American universities until high tuition fees and lack of financial scholarship stumped them. As their plans for sending her abroad floundered, Amina turned to the Voice of America broadcast for a programme about the different types of student and work visas and 'the SAT, GMAT, and TOEFL tests foreign students might use to qualify for them'. Serendipitously, the announcer rounds up the broadcast saying: 'Of course, the easiest way to come to America is to find an American and get married!' Thereafter, Amina trawls web dating sites where she meets George Stillman, an electrical engineer who's looking for a woman who is 'so much more sensible than other [American] women'. The book has been touted as 'a story of love and marriage that takes us from the backyards of America to the back alleys of Bangladesh'. In less empathetic hands Amina could have been reduced to a scheming woman whose pursuit of the green card is the primary motivation of her life. However, Freudenberger has vested so much energy in accurately portraying Amina that the voice of George Stillman - white, Anglo-Saxon, non-exotic - is given short shrift. Why does George want to marry a woman who is Muslim, from a third-world country, whose parents insist on the pre-condition that George 'must be willing to convert to Islam'? George's mother, too, seems strangely sanguine about this arrangement. Love is not a defining strand in this marriage where George's priorities are stability and children, and Amina's primary concern is sponsoring the visit of her dependent parents to the US. With the economy taking a nosedive in 2008, Amina lurches from one job to another while she attends community college in the evenings. In parallel she is trying to get pregnant, gain US citizenship and, with her meagre savings, buy an apartment for her parents. Meanwhile, stoic, sensible George gets laid off. With The Newlyweds we are in the terrain of contemporary realist fiction, implicit in which is the assumption of a non roller-coaster journey. Which is okay, except that a relatively flat landscape shouldn't imply a lack of emotional highs and lows. Ultimately, Freudenberger's authentic set pieces seem banal, deliberate and entirely devoid of passion. Freudenberger, product of an MFA programme, seems to subscribe to the notion that has gained currency in contemporary literary circles: elegant writing at the expense of plot or passion. This book tackles immigration, love, marriage and cross cultures with meticulous, bloodless piling of detail. In the final instalment of the book, A Proposal, Amina returns to Bangladesh where it looks like an adulterous romance with cousin Nasir might take wing. Things get complicated further when her mother's visa is approved but her father is turned down. Meanwhile, a jealous relative attacks her father with acid, leading to his hospitalisation. However, the plot is too carefully orchestrated to succumb to flights of passion and the story soon settles back into its deliberate motions. Reading The Newlyweds is like eating the street food of the subcontinent in a high-end restaurant: the ingredients are correct, the method of cooking has been precisely adhered to and, yet, the resulting dish lacks something. There is that little thing called the soul of the street food - the problem any high-class chef faces is in how to replicate it. Freudenberger has hit just such a roadblock with The Newlyweds.