1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Slice of Midlands Navel Gazing,
This review is from: The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton (Paperback)
I found this book very uneven and hence quite frustrating for me to go through. I don't usually go for self-penned memoirs, but I gave this a go, as there isn't much in the way of British Asian non-fiction.
Let me recount the good points first. Sanghera does a good turn in humorous observations of Indian immigrant life in the UK; there are a couple of great chapters on his own personal experience of arranged marriage introductions and secretly getting his long hair cut as a teenager that are very funny. Plus, there were quite a few little observations and turns of phrase indicating a naturally funny style.
However, there were many times when book descended into a meandering, navel gazing and self indulgent recollection of both his childhood and his efforts to get this book written. The fact that Sanghera did not realize his dad and sister had schizophrenia until he was in his twenties, made me ponder that he must have had a very solipsistic mindset.
Furthermore, Sanghera often compares and contrasts his working life in London (glam locations, educated friends, travelling, famous people... blah, blah, blah) with the remainder of his family in Wolverhampton (provincial, cheap, restrictive) which gets tiresome and repetitive. At one point, Sanghera bemoans the base materialism of British Asians (which I agree with), but isn't shy of talking about his own French Connection coat, Prada spectacles and Porsche 911.
The climax of the book is a letter that he writes to his own mum (but which he then needs to get translated into Punjabi), explaining his predicament concerning having had English girlfriends, his "secret life in London" and generally wanting to break free from the expectation of an arranged marriage. This letter (reproduced in the book) he then hands to his mother to read whilst he shuts himself away in another room. At this point, I thought there really seems to be some stunted emotional development on display here - I mean, surely a grown-up man can sit down with his mother and talk face-to-face about the fundamentals of his own life? Writing a letter to his own mother seemed very 1870s.
There were also a couple of editorial shortcomings in my view. Firstly, there are quite a few black and white family photos reproduced within the pages of the text, but these are unlabelled and so I had to try and take guesses as to who was portrayed; it was only when I finished the book that I saw a photo list at the back.
Secondly, there are quite a few Punjabi words in italics spread across the text, but these Punjabi words are, in most cases, not explained. Not so much a problem for me, as a Punjabi speaker, but I can imagine it being a problem for others.
Overall, I think if Sanghera writes in the future, he should concentrate more on funny observations, as this is where his talents lie.