Named a Best Book of 2022 So Far by The New Yorker!
“Cultural clashes, political satire, Oedipal conflicts, elegant prose—they’re all here in this romp of a book.” —Oprah Daily
A Phenomenal Book Club Pick and a New York Times Book Review Group Text Selection, Love Marriage is a glorious moving novel from Booker Prize shortlisted Monica Ali, who has “an inborn generosity that cannot be learned” (The New York Times Book Review).
In present-day London, Yasmin Ghorami is twenty-six, in training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father), and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother, Harriet, is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast. So, too, is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe.
As the wedding day draws near, misunderstandings, infidelities, and long-held secrets upend both Yasmin’s relationship and that of her parents, a “love marriage,” according to the family lore that Yasmin has believed all her life.
A gloriously acute observer of class, sexual mores, and the mysteries of the human heart, Monica Ali has written a “riveting” (BookPage, starred review) social comedy and a moving, revelatory story of two cultures, two families, and two people trying to understand one another that’s “sure to please Ali’s fans and win some new ones” (Publishers Weekly).
Reading Group Guide
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This reading group guide for LOVE MARRIAGE includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Yasmin Ghorami’s life seems to be right on track: she is a doctor in training, she’s engaged to a doctor named Joe Sangster, and both her family and Joe’s are thrilled about the union. However, all is not as idyllic as it might seem. The cultural divide between families is vast, as is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe. Misunderstandings, infidelities, and long-held secrets come to light, upending both Yasmin’s engagement and her belief in the family lore of her parent’s “love marriage” (as opposed to a traditional, arranged marriage). Old foundations are shattered and new understandings are reached as Yasmin discovers the truth about her fiancé, her family, and herself.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In the opening pages of Love Marriage, Monica Ali describes the sexual gap between Yasmin and Joe. Whereas Yasmin’s family is sexually reserved—“If the television was on and a kissing-with-tongues scene threated the chaste and cardamom-scented home, it was swiftly terminated by a flick of the black box”—his, liberal and upper-class, is flagrantly open about sex (his mother is a prominent feminist). How does this contrast in experience manifest throughout the story? What do you think might have been different if Yasmin had been able to discuss sex more freely with her family.
2. Consider the following prediction about Yasmin’s brother, Arif, at the beginning of the novel: “In six months, Yasmin would be married and gone, and Arif would be no further forward, would still be here trapped by adolescent defiance and dependence, strumming his broken-stringed guitar” (page 14). How does Arif subvert these expectations, and what does that add to the story? How do Ali’s characters undermine or defy one another’s expectations?
3. When Yasmin and Joe’s families get together to discuss the wedding, Harriet Sangster and Anisah Ghorami get carried away with planning on the couple’s behalf. If you have planned a wedding, compare your experience. If not, discuss how you would feel in Yasmin or Joe’s place.
4. At the end of “Brain Event” (page 19), Yasmin and her father joke about her “dowry.” “No, they cannot afford it,” he tells her. “My daughter is priceless to me.” Although the two have real affection for one another, their relationship fractures as tensions rise within their family. How does their relationship grow and transform by the end of the novel?
5. Initially, Yasmin is wary of her mother and Joe’s becoming friends, particularly because of Harriet’s passionate interest in Anisah’s ethnic and religious background. What do you think abouttheir friendship?
6. Racism is frequently discussed by various characters, especially Yasmin, Arif, and Rania. During these conversations, how do the characters approach the topic? How do they tackle this issue in their lives, and how does it affect them?
7. Rania is Yasmin’s best friend and confidant. She proudly wears the hijab and appears on a televised debate about Islamic dress. Although Yasmin occasionally finds Rania’s self-assurance annoying, she still admires her friend, and the scene in the bar (page 77), where Rania has her first drinks, is one of the funniest in the novel. What does Rania’s presence add to the overall story? How does the contrast with Rania add to our understanding of Yasmin?
8. Why do you think the author made the choice to show us Joe’s therapy sessions from the perspective of Sandor, the therapist, instead of from Joe’s point of view? How do we benefit from analyzing Joe from a professional’s perspective? How would your experience differ if we read from Joe’s point of view? And what do you think about the author’s decision to share Sandor’s own story?
9. For Yasmin, sex has never been a passionate affair. She has slept with only three men, and always found it hard to “let herself go,” until she experiences a singularly erotic experience unlike anything she’s ever felt before. How does this new experience change her understanding of sex and her view of herself?
10. Love Marriage deals with themes of addiction, emotional abuse, and trauma, and demonstrates how these can damage one’s relationships when left unaddressed. However, many of the characters kept these secrets hidden because they believed it would be better for their loved ones. Are there situations where it is better to not discuss these issues? How might have things gone differently had the characters been open about their pasts earlier on?
11. In addition to the cultural and class divide between the Ghoramis and Sangsters, there is a generational gap between parents and children. In both families there are misunderstandings and heated arguments between child and parent. Where does the communication break down between the generations? Did you find yourself more frustrated with one side than the other?
12. Love Marriage is a story, in part, about self-discovery and reinvention. By the end of the novel, several characters have begun new jobs, businesses, and side-hustles. Yasmin’s mother begins a successful chutney business, Arif joins a TV production company as a researcher, and Rania begins writing for a magazine for Muslim women. What do you believe inspired these characters to begin these projects? What would motivate you to start something new?
13. In “Rescue Me” (page 400), Yasmin’s mother says, “Your father has pride and also he has shame. These are two sides of the same penny, isn’t it?” How else do you see pride and shame operate this way throughout the novel? Which characters have this dual experience?
14. By the end of the novel, Yasmin realizes that her parents’ relationship is completely different from what she believed growing up, but ultimately she gains a deeper understanding of her mother and father and accepts the arrangement they actually have. What is your opinion of their story and relationship? Do you think they should have revealed the truth earlier to their children? Would you have done so?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Initially, Yasmin signs up and studies for the MRCP exams to become a doctor, until life gets in the way and she skips the exam entirely. Try some of the sample exam questions for free on the MRCPUK website and see what she was up against!
2. Although Yasmin believes she knows the story of her parents’ marriage, Harriet suggests she ask to hear the story anew. Are there any long-repressed tales in your family (that you know of)? If you feel comfortable, consider asking the source of the story to tell it to you again. Perhaps you will find new details emerge that you couldn’t have known as a child.
Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She was named one of the 20 best young British novelists under 40 by Granta. She is the author of four previous novels, including Untold Story and Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Guardian Book Prize, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was named a winner of the 2003 Discover Award for Fiction and a New York Times Editors’ Choice Book that same year. She lives in London with her husband and two children.
“Quick footed and absorbing… The playful clash of cultures evolves into a subtle exploration of the ways in which both immigrant and nonimmigrant families have shaped their children, transmitting unexplored trauma across generations.” —The New Yorker
“Cultural clashes, political satire, Oedipal conflicts, elegant prose—they’re all here in this romp of a book.” —Hamilton Cain, Oprah Daily
“Ali successfully skewers everyone—white feminists, children of immigrants, overconfident male doctors…funny and satisfying.” —Jenny Singer, Glamour
“An absorbing and meaty exploration of love, family and culture...” —Carole V. Bell, NPR
“Such lively characters, they practically waltz off the page to hand readers save-the-date cards… I came to care deeply about this flawed pair, whose destiny Ali unfurls with obvious glee and a touch of poetry.” —Elisabeth Egan, The New York Times Book Review