1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Powerful, intense, thought-provoking,
This review is from: Ours are the Streets (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Sunjeev Sahota's first novel is an intense first-person account of how an awkward young man from Sheffield becomes a suicide-bomber. Imtiaz is the British-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and at the beginning of the novel, he seems to be as much a part of British society and culture as anyone else - he enters a relationship with a white girl, takes drugs from time to time, and although he goes through the motions of Islamic faith, he is hardly committed to it. We discover before long, though, that Imtiaz's sense of his individual identity is uneasy. Torn between his parents' native culture and mainstream British culture, he does not fully feel part of either.
Imtiaz's sense of isolation and lack of belonging become clearer on a long trip he takes to his father's village in Pakistan after his father dies. As he puts it:
'I loved it when I'd be going round the village and people'd shout me over by calling, "Mubtasim Ali's grandson!" or when they'd introduce me as "Munchiki's great-grandson". I were always so and so's grandson or such and such's nephew or whatever. I were never just me, on my own. No one ever called out, "Hey Imtiaz!" And I loved that. It were like for the first time I had an actual real past, with real people who'd lived real lives.' (p. 100).
In Pakistan, Imtiaz finds the promise of a sense of authentic belonging, but he does not really find the thing itself. He still feels out of place and unsure of himself. When he goes with some friends to visit Kashmir and then Afghanistan, his individual weakness and yearning for acceptance allows him to be drawn ever deeper into militant radicalism.
There is a problem with having this novel related from a first-person perspective, which is that Imtiaz does not have a great deal of self-awareness. If he did, his relationships with others would be more secure, and he would not feel this desperate longing to be accepted by others in the first place. So this makes it difficult for Sahota to explain fully and convincingly how and why Imtiaz is drawn down the path he ultimately takes. Ultimately, I think that the choice of structure limits what the book can do, which is why I have given it 4 stars rather than 5. Still, given the choice he has made, the author handles this problem with tremendous skill. The first person perspective plunges us into the confusion and desperation that frame how Imtiaz sees the world. The result is a partial view of the development of his character, but an extremely powerful one.
This book is a reminder that multiculturalism cannot be reduced to platitudes about `celebrating diversity'. Being between two cultures can be difficult, painful, confusing and emotionally damaging to people who never manage to find a sense of real belonging. Instead of putting forward these arguments in an abstract way, this novel expresses them powerfully by plunging the reader into the mind of a confused and frustrated young man. It has its shortcomings, and perhaps not every reader will find it easy to connect with it, but this is an extremely powerful piece of writing. It is the most thought-provoking novel I have read for years.