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London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City [Paperback]

Sukhdev Sandhu
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 17.99
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Book Description

1 Nov 2004

From the 11th-century, when one commentator claimed the capital was being overrun with Moors, to the garage MCs and street poets of today – this book tells the story of life in London for black and Asian people from the 17th-century until today.

‘London Calling’ tells the story of black and Asian literary London, tracing the escapades, fortune making, and self-expansion of these forgotten writers. It is a joyful and often rapturous work, a love letter to the capital, a teeming and complex mix of social and cultural history seen through the imagination and experience of great black and Asian writers. ‘London Calling’ gets to the heart of the immigration impulse, and evokes the dreams and adventures of those who have sought refuge and asylum in the cradle of Empire.

The book is populated by runaway slaves, lotharios, imams, boxer-pimps, rajahs and colonial revolutionaries, and discusses writers as diverse in style and time as the 18th-century grocer-aesthete Ignatius Sancho right through to Rushdie, Kureishi and yardie chronicler Victor Headley. The result is an exciting work, brimming with life, as it spotlights a rich but neglected literary tradition, and brings to life a gaping void in the city’s history. Placing the multiculturalism of today’s capital in its historical context, Sukhdev Sandhu shows that it is no new phenomenon, and that just as London has been the making of many black writers, they too have been the making of London.

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London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City + Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis
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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (1 Nov 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006532144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006532149
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 482,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


‘A spectacular, stimulating work, full of intriguing information.’ Sunday Times

‘This cocktail of literary archaeology, social critique and storytelling reopens a window on a marginalised world.’ Observer

‘A fine, unusually insightful and stylishly written piece of work, a valuable, zesty contribution to the growing body of literature on black writers by black writers.’ Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Sukhdev Sandhu has a doctorate from Oxford University and has taught at New York University. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement and Modern Painters. He is currently chief film critic for the Daily Telegraph. He lives in Whitechapel.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant concept- fills a gap - and very well executed. Excellent introduction to the lives and writing of black and asian writers in London from 17th century to the present day - how the city affected them and how their response affected British writing, culture, and identity.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Answering the call 26 Aug 2003
By waduh
Tolerant, playful, learned, London Calling vividly repopulates London with the voices of black and Asian writers who have lived there over the last three hundred years. Sandhu delights in the sheer variety of ways in which these writers have imagined the city, in all its gloss and squalor. From the 18th century, where Ignatius Sancho runs a grocers shop, and sends out a stream of lively gossipy letters to his many cultured friends such as the author Laurence Sterne; to the twentieth, where Samuel Selvon pens novels which use modernist techniques to capture and build on the vibrant speech rhythms and shifting life experiences of Caribbean migrants, Sandhu prizes those writers who have immersed themselves in the messiness and chaos of the metropolis. He prefers writers like Hanif Kureishi or Salman Rushdie, whose characters exploit city life to break down barriers and fashion themselves anew, provide sardonic comment on London through their wild antics, and challenge a narrowly linear form of writing. V.S. Naipaul, despite acknowledged literary triumphs in other works, is seen to 'step back prudishly' from London, and to criticise the city like a dreary 'pub bore'.

For Sandhu, black writing has been too often seen by its critics and even its supporters as 'emergency literature',in which the only value is journalistic reportage, or political agitation. He shows how black writers display a much wider range, indulging their imaginations, creating lasting literary achievements, mixing pleasure with a sense of the hardships which they faced. His writing is itself both colloquial and intense, rich in a diction rendering the heaped-up mixture and the snappiness he loves so much in those he studies.
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12 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A major disappointment 12 Jan 2004
By A Customer
Considering the topic and the quality of the material at his disposal, this is a really disappointing book. This is mainly because Sandhu doesn't quite know what book he should be writing -- lit. crit. or history? -- so we get a bit of both but not much of either. Despite the book's hefty size it's very lightweight. It's meant to be about 'black and Asian writers', yet the early chapters are more like historical anecdotes and tell us how black people were written about in the 18th and 19th centuries but not really how they wrote (about) themselves. Little information is new. And when he does get down to some literary analysis it's pretty uninspiring: his take on Ignatious Sancho makes loads from, er, the dashes in Sancho's prose style. The 20th-century chapters are a bit more exciting, partly because the literature about which he's writing is more dynamic, but even here there are loads of missed opportunities: his peculiar reading of Caryl Phillips is symptomatic. Basically, 'London Calling' is not in-depth enough to be history and not sharp enough to be good lit. crit. so it ends up falling between two stools. Its unimaginative title is typical of the rather derivative feel of the book. And, oddly, Sandhu claims that the writers he explores aren't well-known; but this just isn't true. Equiano, Sancho etc. are well-worn subjects, as are Selvon, Kureishi and Rushdie. There's little here that isn't in Peter Fryer's magisterial history of black Britain, 'Staying Power', or C. L. Innes's recent excellent book on black writing in Britain since the 18th century. I was really disappointed by this book and -- amazingly, considering the subject-matter -- often bored. A pity.
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