on 9 June 1999
When an author is already famous for being funny (in this case for BBC's Goodness Gracious Me) I'm always nervous that their books will try too hard to amuse and leave the reader disappointed. A classic example of that is Arabella Weir's one joke wonder 'Does My Bum Look Big in This?' This however is a very different kettle of chapattis - its a novel that happens to be quite funny rather than a shallow comic novel The story takes us to 60's Midlands, the time of Enoch Powell and his 'Rivers of Blood' speaches, a time of the unthinking racism that enables Meena's neighbours to name a dog 'Nigger' and talk about going 'Pakki Bashing' whilst always following it up with a 'we don't mean you, you're just like us'. Whilst the richness of her character's extended family (especially the marvellous magical grandmother) adds greatly to the experience of the book, her race is almost an irrelevance to the exploration of childhood friendships, the need to be 'in' with the right people, the abuse you can put up with for an appearance of being 'one of us' and the fleeting transience of pre-teen friendships. I had an 'Anita' when I was that age - they were the girls who spread the horror stories about sex and periods and stole your childish jewellery if you let them alone in your house. The village life of Tollington is full of surprises - one of my favourites is the war veteran who speaks Punjabi with her grandma and greets Meena with a cheery 'Namaste Chick'.
It's lovely. Stick with it through the rather slow beginning, try not to keep assessing whether she's really the right age for the action that's being described and enjoy this for what it is - a painfully honest but often funny tale of childhood.
on 16 June 2013
Anita and Me by Meera Syal is actually one of those books where I found out it existed by seeing the film adaptation first. I am sometimes a little weary of reading books after I've already seen the film because film adaptations tend to alter somewhat from the novels themselves and I enjoyed the film thoroughly and didn't want to end up being disappointed with it once I had finished the book.
It has actually been sat on my bookshelf for about three years, never seemingly managing to get around to it; there always seemed to be books I wanted to read more. I'm not that ashamed I left it so long to read, not because the book is bad in any way but at the moment I had the time to actually sit and enjoy the book and take my time with it.
The story of Meena is a funny, sad, addictive page turner that sings of Indian culture all with a Brummie accent. She's a girl that longs for fish fingers and chips rather than chapattis. At the beginning of the novel we find Meena longing to shed her `Indian' coloured skin and fit in with Anita, the blonde haired `wench' from next door. As we read on however, it is so inspiring to see Meena grow into herself, accept her roots and actually learn to love and appreciate just how different she is. It's a teenager's novel at heart, set in the 60's where working class men are laid off and women are verbally announcing their sexuality to the world.
Syal writes with so much wit and humour that it's hard not to fall in love with Meena's voice. She has the exact attitude that makes young adults so funny and unique, but just as quickly; Syal can turn the story on its head and evoke emotion from the reader. It is one of those few novels that includes it all. Love, anger, racism, community, sex, culture, religion are to name but a few.
It can be hard to like central characters that at the beginning lie and steal unashamedly without guilt, but with Meena, you feel for her predicament, being stuck bang in the middle of a society in the midst of a social change, but also stuck in the body she was born with. It is a heart warming tale, one I urge all fans of YA to read. I haven't read many foreign culture stories before, not because I don't like them, but just because I am more of a fantasy fan, but it helps to learn more about the Indian culture, despite being set in Tollington via Birmingham.
on 25 June 2002
This is a very amusing, accurate and clever insight into life as a child in the seventies. I feel that Meera Syal captures exactly how it felt to be an Indian family member in a predominantly white neighbourhood, yet still maintaining the fears, experiences and changes that many girls have to tackle as they approach adolescence. I read "Life is not all Ha Ha Hee Hee" and felt a totally different angle is needed to approach Anita and Me to appreciate the richness of the author's writing in both novels. Money well spent on this novel I think!
on 20 November 2002
As someone that grew up in a small rural village in the countryside in the 70's and 80's, this book brings a lot of memories flooding back. Although not from an asian family, there were many comparisons to be made, as where we lived we were "different" to those around us at the time. This work is a masterpiece of playing on the readers childhood memories, our perceptions of things as they were when we were kids, and also tackles some serious issues surrounding racism, the clashes of cultures and how precarious childhood friendships really are....
Syal's incisive wit is very evident in this work, in a very amusing, laugh out loud on the tube manner, her hidden "comebacks" on things such as the name of some paint, how culturally bereft some people are and the odd in joke in Punjabi (thanks to my translating friends!) and oh yes the farting belching grandmother over from India really do make this work a very enjoyable read.........
To be honest, if books like this were being read in schools today, then the world would be a better place maybe? This is readable by people of any age to be honest....
An absolute must read.........Meera, if ya reading this, a sequal please?
As for other comments about the ending from other reviews, i personally believe once again its very apt......
on 16 February 2016
I have adored Meera Syal for years wherever she has turned up, whether she is being an actress, comedienne, cultural commentator or even being Granny on The Kumars at No. 42. Strangely however, I had never read any of her books until now. Still, a combination of hearing that Anita and Me had made it on to the GCSE syllabus and receiving her new book The House of Hidden Mothers on Netgalley made me decide to find out more. I had always had the idea that this was a memoir but although it does fall into the fiction category, it is plain to see that it comes with a hefty dose of Syal’s own personal experiences. The central character, the ‘me’ of the title, is ten year-old Meena and the reader ambles alongside her as she navigates life as a second-generation Punjabi immigrant in a 1970s mining village near Birmingham.
At first this seemed like a simple fish-out-of-water novel. Meena is the outsider within the village, looking up to her friend Anita and longing to be a ‘Tollington wench’. On the other hand, she finds it difficult to live up to her parents’ expectations of being the good daughter. Meera has no idea of who she wants to be – she is apparently ‘too mouthy, clumsy and scabby’ to be Indian but too Indian to be British. Over the course of the book, Meena chases about after Anita, causes mayhem, experiences heartbreaking betrayal and searches for her own sense of self.
There is so much to enjoy here – oddly for a book set in the 1970s, I was reminded of my own childhood. I grew up in the 1990s but have been struck ever since how I was part of the last generation to experience a pre-digital upbringing. During my time as a primary school teacher, I was shocked by how disconnected the children I taught were from the world around them. When I was Meena’s age, I was living in a not-that-nice ex-council house with my mother and was never allowed to play out (suspicion lingers that one of the families in the local area burgled our house in 1992). While I cannot relate to the conflict between Meena’s Punjabi heritage and her desire to conform with those around her, I do remember that feeling of being the outsider. Finding a place to ‘be’ is not easy.
The theme of ‘home’ runs through the book. Meena explains excitedly to her baffled British neighbours the difference between the ‘Aunties’ and ‘Uncles’ who visit the house and her true blood relatives back in India and we sense Syal herself poking affectionate fun at her own relatives here as she remarks on how they appear to find nothing strange in immediately inviting newly arrived immigrants home to stay and offering them a copy of ‘Situations Vacant’. Yet still, the horror of the conflict which drove Meena’s parents from their homeland comes as a shock to their daughter and is a further way in which her experience as the second-generation immigrant contrasts with theirs. However, the end of the novel reveals that a secret other immigrant has lurked in their midst for all this time – an interesting commentary on the evolving nature of multi-cultural Britain.
Meena feels her parents hopes and expectations, their determination that she will pass her Eleven Plus and reward their sacrifice. She knows that although she can shrug off her family’s scoldings, to be told off by a white person disgraces the whole Indian nation. Yet still, Meena is seduced by the ersatz glamour of Anita – at least until her world flips and she comes to see the ugly underbelly to her community. The parallels with To Kill A Mockingbird are many and even referenced when Meena gives a copy of it to her friend Robert with the complaint that it was a far too heavy read. Syal herself submitted it to the Cultural Exchange, describing it as the book which first made her understand that racial hatred is more about those who exhibit it rather than those who are targeted by it. Meena’s shock at hearing racial abuse in Tollington mirrors Scout Finch’s devastation on witnessing Maycomb’s dark core but this novel never goes anywhere quite as murky as Mockingbird did. From her grandmother, Meena learns Punjabi, connects with her heritage and finally embraces her roots – but what has truly turned her away from Anita is the glimpse of her former heroine’s true viciousness.
In many ways, although race is of course a huge element of the novel, this is more a story about family ties. Meena is surprised to realise that Anita’s mother has disappeared, that the mad Cara has been ‘taken away’, that Robert is gone from her – and so she holds the tighter to her family and to her own true self. The mark Meena leaves on Sam Lowbridge’s memory, the truth that she tells to the police – as the novel closes, we have a sense of a girl becoming a young woman and leaving childish things behind. It was a strange thing to read of Meena’s decisive forgetting of certain episodes, not because of any wish to airbrush her own history but rather because some events, some people, are not worth remembering. We set some things down and we erase them.
I adored this book – Syal has made a highly fallible but still very engaging heroine in Meena and for all her flaws, I found myself really rooting for her to do the right thing. There is a rueful quality to much of the humour but Syal writes with such self-deprecating wit that even the sadder moments of the novel finish on a happy note. When I worked in a secondary school, I remember helping students write essay plans for their GCSE coursework on Of Mice and Men and while that novel has its redeeming features, I found myself slightly jealous that now Anita and Me has made the syllabus in its stead. I made so many notes on this novel while I was reading it but more than anything, it felt like a book about growing up, about making choices based on one’s own conscience and building a version of yourself that you can look at in the mirror without flinching. A novel that will definitely stick in my mind.
This is the fictionalised biography of a young Asian girl living in a coal mining village near to Wolverhampton in the 1960s. Meena’s family are originally from India and she is the only girl from a non-white background in the village. Apart from the usual growing up story this book tells the experience of Asians in Britain at a time when there was quite a lot of immigration and associated discrimination. Among the incidents of random racism there are also the stories of all Meena’s family’s friends and relations – what they are experiencing in Britain and what they have fled from at the time of Partition on the sub-continent.
Meena has all the usual confused experiences of a girl growing up into puberty as well as having to come to some sort of understanding about where she and her family’s culture fit in. Anita is an older girl in the village who Meena desperately wants to emulate in order to fit in but as she does so she antagonises her parents and others – Anita represents integration and acceptance to Meena. It’s an excellent examination of what it means to be different as well as a great portrayal of ordinary life in the 1960s.
I really enjoyed this novel. I have a bit of a weakness for growing up autobiographies (fictional or non-fictional) where the child or family is different in some way. I think this book has a lot in common with some of my favourites – “Oranges are not the only Fruit” by Jeanette Winterson; “Bad Blood” by Lorna Sage; “Too Many Mothers” by Roberta Taylor and “The Glass Castle” by Jeannnette Walls.
on 11 May 2015
This is a warm engaging story of what it feels like to be an immigrant, having been an immigrant myself at a tender age, what she writes resonates with me.
Meera Syal's family had fled from an unstable political background in India, moving to The Black Country, so called for all the mining and heavy industry with all the attendant dirty black pollution. A green and pleasant land this wasn't. The work her father does is never fully revealed, possibly an office based clerical job far beneath his qualifications and capabilities, her mother is an infant school teacher, very correct, very proper, longing for a daughter who can behave like her cousins Pinky and Baby.
The other thing about her parents that Meera finds so odd and unlike their friends or family and certainly not like their neighbours is they have a marked tendency to kiss and canoodle. She finds this behaviour quite bizarre and puzzling but just accepts it is another way in which her parents and her family are different. She is very different to her parents and often wonders if she is just born bad drawn to bad influences like a magnet, the eponymous Anita, Anita with her blonde locks, the face of a pissed-off cherub and the attitude to match. Anita ran with two other girls Sherry and Fat Sally whose job was to do Anita''s bidding, laugh at her jokes and generally be back-up crewe. plus Sherry had a horse and her dad had a farm where the horse was stabled.
Meera was no angel before her and Anita got together, making up fantastic stories and fabricating huge lies when caught out, filching money from mummy's purse and the biggest baddest maddest crime of the lot stealing mummy's diamond necklace. Her behaviour goes even more down-hill when aged ten a baby brother Sunil makes a most unwelcome appearance. The only saving grace being Nannima ( mummy's mother) magically arrives from India, this following the prognostications of a fortune teller. To reveal anymore would spoil the story, suffice to say this is a cracking tale of the difficult negotiation of that tricky passage from carefree childhood to young teenager. This brings back so much of the angst and pain that is a necessary part of the process if we are to pass through to adulthood.
on 15 October 2011
I picked this book up after being told that I would have to read it as part of the current GCSE English Literature syllabus. It isn't the type of novel I would usually read nor is it my typical cup of tea, but I am very keen to branch out into different genres of literature instead of sticking to the generic horror, fantasy and science fiction. As I read through the chapters what really struck me was that I didn't have the self-conscious awareness of the change between current events and encounters and into something Meena (main character) would explain and recall. The narrative would change from these in a very subtle and smooth way which I think Meera Syal has beautifully, With it being the type of novel which doesn't have a major plot, it still kept me entertained with all the exploits and explanations of the Punjabi Indian culture which I know very little about. It also displayed the major differences between two cultures as well as various themes. The characters were likeable apart from Meena's 'best friend' Anita Rutter who I would describe as the antagonist of Meena Kumar. It is very humourous and hilarious at times though it is not one of those novels which I am eager to read through again but I will have to in my studies for GCSE English. Overall, I really enjoyed it.
on 16 March 2001
On first reading the book, I was astounded at the detail with which Syal so tentatively described the ins-and-outs of Meera's childhood. As a younmg reader, and a relatively new one at that, I found that I couldn't put it down, and was grasped by the intensity of emotion injected into the novel. From histerically laughing to almost uncrontrollable tears! I loved it, and can relate entirely with Meena's childhood dilemas and experiences...a great read!
on 14 January 2002
A wonderful evocation of childhood in the seventies. I was drawn to this novel as it touched on so many aspects of my own experience of growing up at that time in Britain - although I am white and lived in the westcountry and not near Wolverhampton! Syal hasn't forgotten the universal agonies of childhood and striving to find your way in life - whatever your background or race.
The book has some very funny moments but also some very disturbing and upsetting ones. An asian girl growing up in an English rural village - she is desperate to fit in and be accepted. But as she matures she realises the true and more sinister nature of many of those she formerly looks up to. Her struggle to come to terms with this contradiction is moving and powerful but ultimately inspiring.
I would recommend this book to anyone who can still remember what it was like to be a child themselves.