9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Debut
This is Sunjeev Sahota's first novel and if this is anything to go by we can expect some really great things coming from him in the future. This tale is a story of our times, but I should warn you some may find the storyline upsetting.
Imtiaz Raina is just an average son of immigrant parents, he is married to a white girl from university who is having his...
Published on 24 Oct 2010 by M. Dowden
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strangly Compelling, but something missing
The premise for the story behind Ours Are The Streets is an excellent one, and in the right hands this could be a powerful story that could go some way to explain why young men that have been born and brought up in Britain feel the need to turn to extreme fundamentalism.
However, the writing style in this book is so very odd. Imtiaz is a recognisable...
Published on 19 Mar 2011 by Lincs Reader
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5.0 out of 5 stars Suicide in Sheffield,
The headlines of this book is that a Sheffield born Pakistani man is trained in Afghanistan to return to Sheffield as a suicide bomber and writes this autobiographical book as a confession for the wife he expects to leave behind. As he contemplates this action his wife takes their child and leaves him; clearly his treatment of her has become cruel and unreasonable. Hardly someone to like it would seem; and yet somehow one develops a degree of sympathy for him.
The book really is an exploration of alienation and belonging, particularly for the immigrant whose home is here in England and yet still talks of 'back home'; of someone that has been brought up in cultures and is a foreigner to each and doesn't know which to choose.
This subject matter could easily elicit cliche after cliche, with facile cut and paste statements from a lesser writer. Here though is a writer with a deft touch who uses light and shade, seriousness and humour and happiness and sadness to produce a powerful, moving novel.
4.0 out of 5 stars Another cliche..but a good one,
There are quite a few books out that follow the story of an asian in Britain. This book tells the story of a young man born in England who grows up to marry a white girl and have a child. Imtiaz is quite likeable, he proclaims his love for his wife to his parents and they make a go of things as a family. She even converts to Islam. It all changes when Imtiaz goes back to the homeland to visit family. He becomes sucked in to the propaganda and his family aren't enough to save him. The story is written in the style of a journal and towards the end of the book you would probably describe him as mentally i'll. He seems depressed, doesn't go out, thinks he's being followed etc. Seeing his mental decline really does make this a good book. The story itself is the cliche but seeing how Imtiaz crumbles emotionally in the name of the cause is quite gripping and makes you feel sad because he has so much in his life to live for but he loses it all and accepts that he must. Overall, this book was an easy read and gave you an insight into a very worrying topic. I enjoyed it and liked the style of writing.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective on a current topical issue,
Imtiaz, a british born boy of Pakistani parents meets Becka, a white girl from Sheffield and when she becomes pregnant his world and in turn his parents hopes and dreams for him are dashed as he does the honourable thing and marries her. She agrees to convert to Islam and for a while they are happy, but when Imtiaz's Abba (father) dies and he goes back to Pakistan to bury him, he tries to make sense of his feelings, his cultural heritage and beliefs and when he gets in with the wrong crowd and is offered a trip to Kashmir and then Afghanistan, he thinks he's found the perfect cause and solution to his feelings of inferiority and loss and a sense that he never made his parents proud or fulfilled his potential. Written in first person as a suicide letter/diary/memoir to his family, especially Becka and Noor his daughter, from whom he separates on his return to the UK. He outlines his feelings about his life, the visit to Pakistan and what has led him to the momentous decision to become a suicide bomber, but it's not until the end that you know whether or not he goes through with it. My only annoyance with the whole book is the occasional lapse back into "Northern" dialect and as a northerner myself this grated with me e.g sempt for seemed to, were instead of was etc. Written in otherwise "normal" language, it was as is Sunjeev suddenly realised his own roots and that of his character and felt he had to speak the lingo.
4.0 out of 5 stars Belonging, friendship, loyalty and loss,
How do you write a first person narrative about a potential suicide bomber? I mean, how can you imagine yourself into such an extreme situation and tell a believable story about it? I really had my doubts but, on the whole, I think that Sunjeev Sahota has achieved it.
The story is written in a popular slang style - Imtiaz is from Sheffield and so the narrative is written with Sheffield slang - 'I were this', 'I were going up Meadowhall', 'it sempt to me' - and there are no chapters, simply gaps where the narrator stops writing. It's not a diary but more sort of notes to himself, not to justify his actions, but to try and explain them to himself.
Basically, it strikes me as a desperately sad story. It's about a deep, deep sense of alienation. Imtiaz grows up in this northern town, watching his parents sacrifice themselves, taking almost any abuse in order to raise him, to see him have a better life than they. But when his father dies and he returns with the body to Pakistan, he finally feels a sense of belonging and quickly wants to fit in, to adopt the clothes, manners and beliefs of those around him, to not be the foreigner.
And really, it's this sense of belonging, of wanting to belong, that prompts him to take the actions he does. He watches the videos of atrocities but doesn't seem particularly moved by them, says that he's seen them before. He is outraged by what the fighting has done to Kashmir, but it's not a strident, violent anger. His commitment seems to come much more from that sense of belonging he finds in Pakistan and his sense of alienation when he returns to Sheffield.
By making Imtiaz's motivation more subtle and complex, perhaps Sahota risks making the story less believable. I had my doubts almost all the way through. But, in the end, it hardly matters because the story ends up being much less about a potential suicide bomber and far more about belonging, friendship, loyalty and loss.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And absorbing, disturbing, but sad book,
Writer Sunjeen Sahota was dazed after the summer bombings of 7/7 in London to find that the four men who carried out the attacks had lived about a mile away from his house in Leeds.
This book, written in the form of a first-person journal left behind by an imagined suicidal jihadist for his family, is his attempt to make some sort of sense of this.
We feel a connection and some sympathy for the "author", Imtiaz Raina, the eventual suicide bomber. He has his doubts about the authenticity of the capitalist consumerist world. And he struggles with issues of friendship and love, marrying an English girl but coming to reject her/his confusing culture even though they beget a daughter.
His heartfelt but confused criticisms of shallow consumerism/capitalism and his feelings of ennui are no different in many ways from any Goth or Hippy or whatever. But even hippies had respect for others and stopped short of massacring everyone. On the whole.
When Imtiaz's father dies and he accompanies the body to be buried at their original family home in a remote Pakistan village, his doubts about the world are intensified. He feels like he doesn't belong anywhere. He's a foreigner in England, but he's also a foreigner in his Father's village, always the Outsider.
But being in the landscape of his forefathers has a profound effect on him. He feels connected. There are a couple of passages that convey the numinous effect of the landscape, the spiritual experience it engenders. Of a people struggling on the land, connected to and at the mercy of nature. But part of it.
But it is a sense of connection he'd never felt before, never in Leeds.
When he returns to England he's not the same. Everything seems "Fake". Fake people, fake politics. Fake lives. No one around and nothing is real. It doesn't matter. No-one matters.
Imtiaz, as imagined by Sahota, is a disturbed and conflicted human being and maybe even very confused and possibly paranoid. Even Intiaz doubts his own experiences and memories at times, keeping us engaged and wondering.
But the ending is inevitable. A very sad book, but speaking of our times.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars But where's the explanation?,
There are other reviews here covering the main plot points, I'm just going to stress what needs saying again. A lot, loudly.
Sahota writes well, but this book reads like a first draft. I realised, six pages from the end, that I *was* six pages from the end and nothing had been resolved. I kept expecting some great revelation, or some subtle realisation, or some *some*thing to justify Imtiaz's conversion into radicalism. But there's nothing. Yeah, life's like that, but really, there's nothing.
These are all the reasons for him *not* to blow himself up: he's bright, he's fairly well off, his family's nice, he has a wife and a kid and a totally okay life in England. He's not got any great problem with his heritage, or the country he lives in. He admits himself that he feels like a fraud trying to claim to feel racially displaced, or whatever. Nobody gives him a hard time about anything much at all. Then his dad dies, he goes out back 'home', and eventually returns to Britain planning to bomb Meadowhall. And there's no convincing change in his mindset anywhere in that chain of events.
Because the real problem here is that Pakistan is depicted as so idyllic a place. His relatives back home are living simply but happily, and going back to his homeland is the best thing to happen to him in ages. Yes, there are American soldiers around, but they're not subjugating anyone, they're handing out medicine. There's a videotape of their supposed crimes, but that's all. There's a bit of peer pressure, and then suddenly everyone's deciding to 'answer the call' and bomb things. But you never really find out *why*. For God, whom Imtiaz doesn't seem that bothered about? For his family in Pakistan, that beautiful, wholesome, infinitely superior homeland, full of friendly, caring, happy people? It just doesn't make any kind of sense.
I thought maybe the lack of explanation was the whole point, in a 'this could happen to anyone' kind of a way. But I'm really not so sure it's that clever a book. Because everyone has a certain degree of reason, and makes their decisions based on it. And Imtiaz never really thinks things through at all, and he certainly doesn't explain his actions to the family he's leaving behind, which was the entire premise of the novel, back at the beginning. And, to be honest, Imtiaz doesn't even come across as particularly religious. I'm not at all religious, and *I* think about God more often than the protagonist mentions Him.
It's well written though (except the 'sempt' thing. Imtiaz never once says 'seemed', and even old people who've lived in Sheffield forever don't really talk like that), and Imtiaz is strangely gripping a character, and you do find yourself caring about his marriage and his family back home. There's really nothing at all wrong with the book... except that a huge section of it seems to be *missing*. The bit that makes it all hold together as a plausible story. Perhaps somebody ripped it out of the journal? Maybe he did. Maybe he should've, in a really obvious way, and in doing so, remained a believable character.
That said, the major plothole thing did make me re-read the book as soon as i finished it, just to try to figure out what i'd missed, so I guess time-wise i got my money's worth. And I'll read Sahota's next book, just to see where he goes from here, and whether he ties up the next one a little more satisfactorily.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Début Not To Be Missed,
Significant events in life tend to shape how we make sense of the world, and when we reach a point where this seems almost impossible to do, we look to artists, poets, musicians, and writers to do it for us. In the past decade we have become familiar with the concept of the suicide bomber and with the 7/7 bombers we have the faces of young men born in Britain committing terrible crimes seeing it as their only option. Sunjeev Sahota's excellent novel tries to make sense of why people end up making these kind of choices.
The central character, Imtiaz Raina, strikes the reader as having plenty of reasons not to make the choice to radicalise and vent an anger. He's married to a white girl and is of above average intelligence, with a daughter to look after. The book centres on journal he is writing for his daughter intended to explain why and how he had made the journey to martyrdom. Charting a kind of countdown to fulfilling his plan to bomb his home town of Sheffield, Imtiaz tells his story.
It's a desire of any writer to get inside the head of their characters, and Sahota manages this almost effortlessly, this a complex and very three dimensional portrayal. The reader's overriding sympathy is with Imtiaz. The only minor criticism is that, in doing this, some of the other characters don't quite leap off the page fully formed, yet that may be due to the plot focusing its perspective entirely on the central character.
This is a disturbing, excellently paced, and very credible work. It is also quite compelling and very difficult to put down. Your emotions are engaged and it is easy to find some empathy with what is a very confused and quite damaged individual. There should also be a note of warning that some of the writing deals with the harrowing reality of terrorism. Yet even at its most shocking this book keeps its momentum and the reader's desire to find out where this story goes.
As a descent into a very private hell, this is a wonderfully written piece which is as good as anything I've read in a long time. A compelling character study from a writer who has managed to tell a very difficult tale compellingly. Considering this is a first novel this is a big achievement from someone who is definitely someone to watch out for. There may end up being a lot of books written with similar themes and characters but only a handful may (just may) be done better.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Highly Accomplished Debut,
`Ours Are The Streets' is probably going to get labelled as a `terrorism novel' which it indeed is, yet it would be a shame if it was only seen as this as there is so much more to the novel than just that. In fact I think the terrorism is a fairly secondary aspect to the book which is really about finding out your heritage and belonging. When we meet our narrator Imtiaz Raina, as he writes from the bedroom of his parent's house in Sheffield, we learn he is intending on becoming a suicide bomber- though whether he does or not I will leave it for future readers to find out.
As Imtiaz writes in his journal each night, to his parents, to his daughter or to his wife Rebecca or `B', we follow the life he has led up to this point as a married man, of a white wife he loves but who adds to his confusion and conflicts in some ways, and father ready to give his life in an act of terrorism for what he feels he believes. I say feel because there is some question as to Imtiaz's general state of mind as the book goes on. He also looks at the history of his family and their migration to the UK and the heritage he is from through the first and second generations and how this affects his life now and the fact that really he doesn't seem to feel he truly belongs. It isn't until an extended trip to Pakistan for a family funeral that a sense of true belonging and home begins to emerge from his consciousness and that's when things start to change in both his life and therefore slowly but surely the narrative before the readers eyes.
I actually found the unwinding story of Imtiaz and his discovery and feelings of his background and all this creates far more interesting than that of his radical turning of mindset. Partly, though this might be me at fault as the reader, because it doesn't seem to have a sudden turning point or true explanation, it merely suddenly seems to happen and make sense. That is the only flaw I can find in what is an incredibly well written debut novel. Sahota holds the reader quickly and then swiftly takes us into the mind of Imtiaz and makes it all believable and real. Most importantly he writes modestly, this is not a debut novel that is crammed with every word and story that a debut novelist might want to use in one go. It's funny, it's dark, it's harrowing and it's entertaining all in all it's a cracking and, though this sounds a cliché, Sahota is definitely an author two watch out for in the future. I don't think I have read such an accomplished and rounded debut novel in quite some time.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars REASON IS THE TRAITOR,
Suicide bombers often leave valedictory/maledictory messages, but this is the first diary of a suicide bomber, albeit a fictional one, that I have read. The author is only turning 30 this year, but he knows the culture that breeds jihadists, he has the talent to tell us about it via a novel, it has helped my own understanding of the issue and I can hardly be alone in looking for that.
How any reader reacts to this story is obviously going to depend on the reader's politics. I myself opposed the war in Iraq from the outset and I am increasingly unsure what `we' are trying to achieve in Afghanistan. I can understand perfectly well the outrage caused by arrogant and patronising western attitudes, let alone the hatred that must be sown, like dragon's teeth waiting to send up a harvest of warriors, in the communities who are having to put up with not only casual brutality but also the self-righteousness that goes with it. However we react to this story and to the real-world events that it mirrors, we should at least not be surprised at suicide bombing. Struggles against foreign occupations are always violent, as the history of colonial uprisings, going all the way back to the foundation of the USA, demonstrates at a glance. Also, attacks on civilians are not new either nor restricted to any jihad. Any grandiose western advocate, such as Air Marshall Harris (of Dresden fame), of `total war' is guilty of the same `end justifies the means' thinking and practice. Simple rationality should tell us this, but simple rationality is often the last thing that people want to hear if they are in the grip of `beliefs'.
One of the things I like best about this novel is that it does not sensationalise the atrocities but keeps its spotlight on the narrator, a very ordinary young Moslem living in Sheffield. Not only that, the book deals, briefly but adequately, with the whole nature of the `belief' that leads someone to behave in such a way, a way so alien, one might think, to ordinary human values. You will find a short dialogue on pages 205 and 206 between the narrator Imtiaz and one Faisal who seems to have tipped Imtiaz finally into his irrevocable decision. At the rational level, what Faisal says is a string of non-sequiturs and misuses of words. When he talks about `knowing' what he means is that he feels sure. Believing, however confidently, is entirely in the mind of the believer. Knowing is of facts that are the way they are even when nobody knows them. Facts cannot be created or stipulated by belief, however fervent. Faisal says quite clearly that his belief in God comes from his belief that without God a lot else would not make sense to him. I know this way of thinking very well indeed from a traditional Christian background, but it is not rationality - it is reasoning back to front and admitting that religious faith is make-believe. However, when a certain idea has caught on and provides inspiration and motivation, sense and rationality have to struggle and indeed are liable to be portrayed as treason.
I like the way the plot is worked, with its constant switches of time-frame and location as Imtiaz moves around between Sheffield Pakistan and Afghanistan. The only fully developed character is Imtiaz himself, but his wife and family are quite convincingly portrayed, or at least they convinced me. When all is said and done, this is a depiction of a Moslem community by an author who is, I have to suppose, a member of that community at least by descent although I would not like to guess his politics or his religious convictions, if any. I did not detect any overt preaching in the tale. Imtiaz himself finally buys into the suicide-club, but important though that might sound it does not come across as the dominant side to his personality, which is indeed a rather ordinary one in many ways, and certainly with no pretence to specially lofty moral standards.
Sheffield is not very far from where I live, but for all that I don't know it very well. Descriptions of the narrator's life there do not purport to paint any portrait of the city, and the general picture of life in a modest Moslem immigrant family is much as I would have supposed it to be in Manchester or, I suppose, anywhere else in England. The stay in Pakistan is more evocative as you might expect, and the shorter passages set in Afghanistan are what you might expect too, making it clear enough without any hype or hysteria why sections of the Moslem nation bear us in the west the kind of deep-seated grudge that fuels their drive for bloody vengeance.
The style is very readable but a bit faux-naif, mixing a perfectly literate style with a determination to use `were' for `was' on every occasion, which is not really what speakers of the local patois do, nor do they say `sempt' anywhere near as frequently as Imtiaz does. One passage in particular may be giving Sunjeev Sahota away as a bit of a class tourist, when Aaqil says `They turn the land to dust and call this peace?' Plain Moslem folks don't, in my experience, commonly quote Tacitus, whose statement (in the Agricola) I shall therefore give in all its Latin pretentiousness `ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant.'
This book is worth taking seriously, partly as a very interesting and promising debut effort from a talented writer. Just in its own right, whatever the author's talent and whatever he may produce in years to come, the book demands our attention for the light it sheds on a community we are going to have to understand better, whatever way that comes about.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting, Sad, Thought Provoking,
As much of a cliché as it may be, I could not put this book down. From start to finish, I read it in under 24 hours!
The story is a study of a young man of Pakistani heritage who struggles to fit in, both in Sheffield and Lahore, a place he visits after the death of his father. As such, it is a portrait of alienation, confusion and, as a response to these feelings, radicalisation. It documents the break down of his relationship with his wife and the mother of his child upon returning to Sheffield and his seeming descent into schizophrenic paranoia after deciding to perform a suicide bombing.
Sahota creates a believable and authentic sounding voice for his lead character through the use of a mixture of Sheffield dialect and Punjabi language which was slightly difficult to follow at first. However, one soon adapts.
This book is almost a companion piece to Chris Morris's Four Lions of last year, exploring very similar issues and environments, but through a very different lens - there is little to laugh about in this book. Although it also focuses on the exploitation of vulnerable young men by religious fundamentalists and the tragedy of self-professed Islamic "martyrs", the overriding emotion here is that of a profound sadness that mounts and mounts. I was constantly hoping that the protagonist, for whom despite his sometimes selfish and abhorrent behaviour I felt great sympathy for, would break out of his deluded state.
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Ours are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota (Paperback - 2 Sep 2011)