Disturbing and well executed first novel,
This review is from: Ours are the Streets (Paperback)
There are few authors who would take on writing a novel from the perspective of a would-be terrorist, and fewer still who would pull it off, but debut novelist Sunjeev Sahota succeeds. The subject is of course a controversial and potentially upsetting one, but it is handled very well. It is narrated in the first person, in the form of a journal written by a British Muslim preparing a suicide attack on a shopping centre. Addressed to various family members, particularly his estranged wife and daughter, it tells the story of his recent life and how a formerly moderate young man became 'radicalised'. It is a disturbing story, with a bit of a twist that becomes apparent later in the book and makes you question the reliability of the narrator.
It would be all too easy to sound like terrorism was being justified or even glorified in such a story, but Sahota avoids this. In fact, it is never really understandable why the narrator - Imtiaz - settles on such an extreme course of action. In fact, you come to feel Imtiaz himself doesn't really know. It's all too common to hear how a terrorist or murderer seemed 'very ordinary' and people who knew them can barely believe it of them. Sahota sets his protagonist up in this mould; married to a white woman, with a young child, brought up by respectable and caring parents, well educated, previously very moderate in his religious leanings, preferring going out drinking to attending prayers. Imtiaz's voice is convincing, right down to his Sheffield accent. He's not exactly a likeable character, but he's certainly not dislikeable either. He comes over as a fairly typical confused young man, desperate to 'fit in', struggling with the responsibilities of new fatherhood and mourning the loss of his father. There is no real hatred or spite in his narration, and particularly towards the end he cuts a pathetic figure. It is disturbing how easily he is converted, and the sections around this seem believable enough although I don't know enough about it to know for sure.
It is a short novel and remains gripping throughout, particularly in the final section as things start to unravel for Imtiaz, and as his retelling of events in Pakistan reaches its horrible climax. It doesn't really provide any easy answers for why people become radicalised in general, rather it is a more personal story. The characterisation is good and it does touch on the difficulties faced by Muslims in non-Muslim countries and of inter-faith marriages, but it's not really a preachy story and you don't feel the author is trying to make a specific point. Whilst I wouldn't describe it as outstanding, hence the four star rating, it is very strong first novel and definitely worth reading.