Monday, June 6, 2016

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam

Bright Lines is the story of the Brooklyn-dwelling Saleem family that has immigrated from Bangladesh to enjoy the American dream.  However, behind the perfect facade of their restored Brooklyn home, Anwar and Hashi are struggling with secrets from the past and discontent with the present.  Their two college age daughters are stumbling their way into their futures. Much to her mother's dismay, Hashi and Anwar's biological daughter Charu seems in no hurry to make something of herself, instead choosing to wile away her time with boys and attempting to design clothes for the fashion label she dreams of.  Adopted daughter Ella is quiet and awkward but has an unparalleled way with plants.  In one transformative year, the family will have to face up to their secrets and the country of their past to learn to live again in the country of their future.

To be quite honest, I struggled with Bright Lines at the outset.  It's slow to get started, and while the characters sprang to life, occasionally the dialogue was awkward and wooden.  Anwar's dialogue in particular is sprinkled with pedantic tangents that allowed my attention to wander.

That said, Bright Lines really grew on me.  Islam has that rare talent that can render New York City into something that seems somehow magical.  The Saleems' Brooklyn house with its carefully tended oasis of a garden springs off the page.  Maya, Charu, and Ella's adventures to parties and to the beach have the New York City grit stripped away to reveal a new place with undercurrents of possibility.

Islam's characters are undeniably unique and all are fully realized.  Anwar, haunted by the war in his home country and the loss of his best friend, has become an herbal pharmacist and a shameless good-natured pothead.  Hashi, more educated by far than your average salon worker, uses her understanding of psychology to transform people's outsides to mirror their true selves when she isn't busy coiffing bridesmaids for weddings.  Charu is the pampered princess receiving all the benefits her immigrant parents have striven to give her and squandering them on boys and temper tantrums.  Ella, uncomfortable in her own skin and plagued by vivid hallucinations since the death of her parents, is still struggling to find her own identity. 

Islam renders Bangladesh with the same artful hand she uses to bring NYC to life, contrasting beautiful beaches with wretched slums.  She sets present day Bangladesh in stark contrast to the war torn state of Anwar and Hashi's youth.  In a country that endured a painful transformation, Islam expertly guides the Saleem family through a terrible transformation of their own until the scars and the rebirth of both are gently intertwined. 

Bright Lines, while not perfect, is an extremely promising debut for Tanwi Nandini Islam.  I'll be looking forward to the next novel from this author who easily draws the magical out of the ordinary.

(Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for review consideration.)


  1. You've made this sound good despite the slow start.

  2. I like culture clash stories, so this one caught my eye as soon as I heard about it. Glad to hear it's worth the read, even if it's got irritating flaws. Nice review!

  3. Fascinating review! I love how you brought out all the contrasts in the cultures depicted. Your insights are very interesting!

    Another thing I like about this book is that Islam brings the magical out of the ordinary, as you pointed out in your excellent review.

    I'm adding this one to my Goodreads shelves! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!! :)