Londonstani Paperback – 2 Apr 2007
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‘The aspirational gangsta swirls us into a bhuna of gang-fights, inter-faith romance and organised crime, and the dizzying humour that underpins his voice is sharp, clever and convincing…In a linguistic politics redolent of Sam Selvon, Victor Headley and Irvine Welsh, Malkani conveys with élan and expertise, through a sub-urban “desi-dialect”, the absurdity of adolescence and the complex self deceptions of contemporary cultural dynamics in the UK.’ Independent
‘Malkani has some interesting observations about identity and the way in which the culturally oppressed can take strength from their exclusion. The end is a complete surprise and forces the reader to question the skin-deep assumptions we make about race.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘”Londonstani” is a bold debut, brimming with energy and authenticity.' Observer
‘If you’re going to read one yoofy, “urban” book this summer, make sure it’s “Londonstani”!’ Arena Magazine
'With “Londonstani”, Gautam Malkani has written one of the most vibrant and fresh first novels in years, innit.' BBC Collective magazine
From the Author
Malkani, author of the electrifying Londonstani, talks to Amazon.co.uk about the influences behind his new book.
What was your inspiration for Londonstani?
When I was at school in the early 90s I developed really this annoying teenage angst about the way brown-skinned kids suddenly were deciding not to hang around with white-skinned kids anymore - and Ive been a little obsessed about the way thats developed ever since.
Back then, I remember one by one, many of my Asian mates would suddenly bin their white mates and assert their Asian identities by joining these new ranks of "rudeboys". That kind of voluntary segregation just looked like a really bad idea because as more and more Asian kids decided to split off from mainstream society, school itself seemed to become an enemy, a part of the establishment. So by buying into this aggressive, anti-assimilation thing, it just felt like we were shooting ourselves in the foot. Meanwhile Asians who didnt subscribe to the rudeboy scene were called "coconuts" (brown on the outside but white on the inside) or "batty boys" (gay). I used to make a complete idiot out of myself by literally trying to question kids about what was going on. Then at university I got the chance to actually research it properly as part of my social sciences degree.
Some people thought my study of rudeboys and coconuts was just my way of going back home with a tape recorder and hanging out with my old schoolmates, but the more I got into it, the more substantial all the research and interviews became. Most importantly, the supervisor of my dissertation suggested itd be more interesting if I turned it into a study of gender instead of making it a study of race relations or ethnicity. And so I focused on how race was being used by kids as a tool to boost their masculinity.
After months of taped interviews and what academics call "participant observation", I ended up doing way too much work for just a university dissertation and so promised my supervisor Id use all the extra material to one day write a non-fiction book. But I eventually gave up and nearly four years ago I started working on this novel instead because I wanted to write something that these kids might actually read and enjoy and think about - instead of just sticking them under an academic microscope for other people to learn about. Thats why the book is so plot-driven. It might sound stupid trying to write something for an audience that doesnt really read books, but thats kind of the point. These guys (and the characters in the book) act more tough and more illiterate than they really are. Theyd get whooped by their mums if they do too badly at school, so the barriers to reading and discussion can be exaggerated. Anyway, the first reader was me and I do read books. And Id always wanted to write a novel someday anyway so turning my dissertation into one was like killing two birds with a single stone or whatever.
By the time I started writing the book, however, there was another important source of inspiration. Just hanging around London it became obvious that the aggressive, anti-assimilation rudeboy thing seemed to have chilled out and become a more all-inclusive subculture - what we call the "desi beats" subculture. And so I wanted the novel to update my original study by exploring that development too. Thats why the three parts the book is split into are called Paki, Sher and Desi respectively - "Paki" represents the Asian boy as victim; "Sher" (which means tiger) represents the Asian boy as aggressor; while the "Desi" subcultural identity represents more of a co-existence with mainstream society.
You successfully manage to inject the boys' dialect into the style of the novel. How difficult was it writing a large proportion in dialogue rather than pure narrative?
I really enjoyed writing the dialogue, which made the whole thing that much easier. And regardless of how difficult it might have been, the thing with the dialogue was that it was really important. The boys in the book are supposed to be wannabe gangsters rather than the real McCoy and are therefore pretty much all talk. It seemed like the best way to spell this out was to just have them talk. Thats why tongues and mobile phones are the inevitable phallic symbols of the book. Both of them become measures of the boys potency, but as the story develops both are also regulated by their mothers.
The hardest thing was figuring out whether the best way to make the dialogue credible would be by writing it just as I was hearing it or by modifying it to make it timeless. Like all slang, this specific mix of British, American, Punjabi and hip-hop changes all the time. Words go in and out faster than beard-styles and so I wanted something that at least stood a chance of not becoming obsolete before the book was even published - if it ever got published. So I tried to select slang words that had already stood the test of time - like "blud", "innit" and "safe" - while binning others, even if they were more interesting and trendy at the time I was writing the book - like "bare" or "blazing". Basically I stuck with words that we used at school and which cropped up during my taped dissertation interviews that we still use today.
One of the other difficulties was avoiding the temptation to finesse the dialogue and the narrators language to make it easier on the ears for non-rudeboy readers. Then there was the FT sub-editor inside me who insisted on keeping the different variations of the Londonstani language consistent for each individual character in the book. For example, only Hardjit and Davinder use numeric text-speak (such as "2" for "two"), only Jas uses the word "int" for "aint", and so on.
Finally, while the boys express their disrespect for mainstream society by carefully pulping the English language, the Panjabi dialogue in the book (spelt the local way rather than the British "Punjabi") had to observe strict grammatical rules and silent letters, for example. And I dont speak Punjabi so that was another difficulty.
Did your characters develop as you hoped throughout the novel, or did you travel with them on their journey and change accordingly?
At the beginning, I tried to map everyone out as much as possible - just as I had done with the plot and the themes that generated the plot. But as I wrote the book, some of the characters did change in ways I hadnt originally planned. Jas become more foolish than Id initially intended; Amit more complex, torn between his peers and his parents; Arun less rebellious while Samira became more blemished, more selfish. Only the three characters that Id always wanted to be caricatures (Sanjay, Ravi and Hardjit) remained as originally planned. It was important that they did so because I hope theyll hook in kids who dont really read books. Sanjay has the feel of a two-dimensional James Bond villain and I didnt want him to become too complex because, sadly, some kids need the certainty of a relatively straightforward "baddie". Ravi is supposed to be a sheep following the herd with no real personality so that rudeboys who read the book can see how dangerous that can be. Meanwhile, Hardjits homoerotic macho queen is a skinny writers attempt to show rudeboys how superficial big biceps can be.
Which books have most influenced your writing style and life?
Aside from books by the authors I mentioned earlier, Rumblefish and The Outsiders by SE Hinton got me hooked on reading when I started secondary school. Then there was the Summer of 42 by Herman Raucher, Salingers The Catcher in the Rye...
Finally, I hope people who dont usually read books might be convinced by this one that books arent for ponces and that, actually, there are loads of other books out there that they can get something from.
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Top Customer Reviews
Within its sprawling scope it considers London's social ethic, the ideas of assimilation and post-collonialism within the third generation, racism, diversity, money, power, economics, Bollywood, Hollywood, what it means to have a voice within the current youth culture and what that voice actually is, the dynamic of parents and children and so on. It is to its credit that it deals with each of these concepts intelligently, never telling the reader what to think, only showing them what is happening and asking them to interpret as they will.
There are elements of Burgess' masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange here. Hardjit's gang go around speaking in their own language, ruthlessly attacking people who don't show them the respect they feel they desevre, writing their parents out of the equation and obsessing about their masculinity. What makes it more disturbing that Clockwork, is that what's going on in this book is real. I know it's cliche to say 'ripped for the headlines' but this really is. Sitting on the bus reading it, I could hear other passengers talking and acting just like the characters in the book. This man has his finger very tightly on the pulse of urban London's Asian sub-culture and has depicted it so vividly that the lines between fiction and fact melt away, leaving the reader with a stark and brutal portrait of modern London's youth culture.
I won't dream of spoiling the surprises the book has in store for you. It kept me constantly interested and frequently shocked as it progressed right until its very last page.Read more ›
It's an exhilarating, highly coloured linguistic ride and the pages fly by. The problem comes when Malkani has to decide what to do with this basic set-up: rather being driven by character, and focussing on the painful journey to maturity that his characters may or may not make, the novel becomes driven by plot as the consequences of Jas and his mates' dabbling in crime begin to unravel, and the latter half of the book turns into a rather implausible thriller. There's a brilliantly-executed plot-twist at the end which has you searching back for clues and admiring the way Malkani set it up, but I'm uncertain of its purpose assessed against the broader issues of masculinity, maturity and culture that the first half raises: it seems more of a mechanical plot device to keep us turning the pages.
So: a promising debut, a good reporter's ear pressed into service, a convincing depiction of teenagers in the no-man's-land between three cultures; but it could have been more if, ironically, less had happened in it.
Whilst it kept me glued to the pages throughout , Londonstani made me think about all of the negative and confusing influences in asian society today. Like Gautham Malkani states this is a book exploring the issues of masculinity; in a society where there is a lack of male role models.. .Asian-Indian British or 'Indo-Brit' kids (I myself for that matter) have grown up raised predominantly by mothers and sisters,because we were raised at a time when most of our fathers where out grinding their fingers to the bone to make a life for our futures.
I found it a real eye opener to confront the fact (during this book) that all of this hip hop gangster stuff is all about young angry asian men and young Asian guys trying to assert their masculinity (after years of "feminization") on the world in a way that makes them seem "cool" or "hip" to the world. Typical 'Hardjit' one of the main characters in the book, comes across as your typical asian urban scene local hero and role model come hip hop gangster all rolled into one. He is Hyper-masculine!
This book is entertaining, vibrant and graphic and this book will show you exactly how insane funny and disturbing multicultural britian has become!! Awesome book Ghutham , truly inspiring work.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Aside from it raising some interesting points about subcultures and how their language, culture and behaviour fits in with dominant British culture and their parents' Hindu and... Read morePublished on 20 Feb. 2014 by Beenie
This would be a wonderful way to approach various topics of identity in schools, be it racial identity, cultural identity, consumerism or masculinity. Read morePublished on 15 Feb. 2014 by Miguelito
Interesting and entertaining read until you read the 'denouement', which is so hyper-contrived it's not plausible. Sounds like an ending suggested by an agent. Pity.Published on 13 Jan. 2014 by Bharati
This is a overwrought idea that probably should have been about 5 pages long. Poorly written, neither insightful or humorous, this lacks any kind of panache or literary flourishPublished on 1 Dec. 2011 by Mr. S. Dutt
I always try and read at least a third of a book before i give up, this was very painful with Londonstani! Read morePublished on 16 Jun. 2011 by Ms. S. Rashid
This is the first review I have ever been compelled to write. This book was so dull I gave up... and I'm fairly easily pleased when it comes to books - as long as its entertaining,... Read morePublished on 29 Mar. 2011 by Rapunzel
The first hundred pages are great - Malkani's main character is believeable and cringeworthy in equal measure, with lots of interesting issues and unlikable characters, with a well... Read morePublished on 12 Mar. 2011 by Mr. Russell Boxer
I have never written a review before but in this case i had to. First problem - books written in slang rarely work. Second problem there is zero tension, purpose and relevance. Read morePublished on 3 Dec. 2010 by sunny