Sort of like Good Times, except in London council flats instead of Cabrini Green, and everyone’s Bangladeshi instead of African American. The cast features all the types you might expect: a woman who everyone thinks is immoral but who’s actually good as gold; a woman who constantly professes piety but is actually a loan shark; the young Turk who wants to change the world; the little girl desperately embarrassed by her poverty; the good kid who gets hooked on smack; the neighborhood toughs; the always-dreaming, always-scheming, always-out-of-work father; and, at the center of the story, Nazneen, the young mother who just wants everyone to be happy, including, if possible, herself. Technically speaking, the novel is a bit clumsy in its larger architectures. Time is not handled well, for example: Ali will write patches of summary that make it seem like months have passed, but then you realize that it’s only been a few days. She (or, more likely, her editor) also insists on inserting big hints that Something Important is soon coming down the pike, as a way of compensating for the fact that there are large tracts in the middle of the novel that really don’t move the plot along at all. But these large-scale construction troubles are more than compensated for by Ali’s terrific detail work in scene after scene of subtle discovery among the characters. The complex pathos of Nazneen’s doofus/genius husband Chanu is rendered with particular brilliance; I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more fully realized three-dimensional fictional character. This novel could’ve stood a bit of trimming, but then they say that about Dickens. I’m probably wrong too, for the same reasons.