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on 12 January 2010
Having grown up near Wolverhampton and having had some good Sikh friends, The Boy with the Topknot took me on a journey through some very familiar places. At the same time it has made me realise that I have always seen these things through a rather narrow lense. I am certainly better informed for reading it.

Having said this, The Boy with the Topknot is far from being merely an encyclopaedia of information. It is a wonderfully engaging read that kept me reading after I should have gone to bed and kept me awake after I should have been asleep. I laughed out loud and I cried a little too. I felt slightly sad, but not at all disappointed, when I came to the end.

Truly excellent.
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on 13 January 2009
This wonderful memoir will grip you because of both the events that unfold and also because it consists of such truly magical writing. Many books might manage to oscillate rapidly between making you want to laugh and making you want to cry, but rarely do they induce both responses simultaneously the way this book does. Sanghera strikes an incredible balance between heart-rending compassion and devastatingly deadpan humour - injected at disarming moments so that you end up smiling while feeling sad.

What blew me away first was the book's wealth of beautifully simple but deeply evocative anecdotes from both the past and present - which all work so well because they're so uncompromisingly specific. To list them out of context might take away the emotional impact they have in the book, so just trust me, they're real gems. There are also great turns of phrase - such as "trousseau for university" - and very touching images that highlight how even the most overbearing of people can sometimes seem poignantly vulnerable.

Also, quite apart from all these amazing touches, another thing that I really loved was the genius of the structure. Because Sanghera so effectively recounts how he researches his family's story, as well as the story itself, the memoir is driven by different points in the overall chronology simultaneously - and by the stories of different people who live together but who have very different experiences. It must have taken a lot of careful planning to make it work so effectively. By intertwining his story with his parents' and his siblings' stories, it means that every time you learn a bit more about Sanghera's childhood or his parents' early years in Britain or his siblings' experiences, you will want to know more about the present-day Sanghera researching that history. An update on one particular strand is never enough so you will want to read the next chapter and the next and so on - incredibly impressive given that the story involves a whole family of individuals each with their individual experiences. Everything is told with such compassion and insight that you will end up empathising with everyone he writes about.

It's because he pulls this off with such skill and subtlety that, by the end of the book, you will feel both surprise and a deep appreciation of the inevitability of what happens. A truly remarkable read.
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on 19 February 2011
Rather disappointing in many ways. While the family story as it unfolds is interesting in itself, if told with little flair and falling back on the excuse that his family's tradition is oral to make up for the lack of detail and bittiness of the narrative, what I found most irksome is the tedious autobiographical element. The main thread is that the author doesn't want to be forced into an arranged marriage, which is all well and good, but it just goes on and on against a background of endless sniping about the West Midlands and what is left (after Thatcher and Blair's efforts to dismantle it) of the Welfare State. Comparing his experience of deciding to stand up to his mother and tell her he won't be forced into a marriage with a Jat Sikh to the coming out experience of a gay man based on what he had read in one book is, to say the last, a bit steep. A lot of the book just sounds like snooty snobby sniping from a golden boy who managed to escape from his backward ethnic upbringing to become a normal English lad with an Asian family. A reader interested in hearing more about the life of an immigrant family in the Midlands of the 80's and schizophrenia to boot can get very bored very quickly of Reading instead enough of about how much money the author earned and how he hobnobbed with celebs and test-drove sports cards, popping in and out of private clinics, etc. While he is understandable aggravated (as he states on several occasions) about misspellings of his name by non-Punjabis, while seeming not to mind having had his own name misspelled by his illiterate father, this would bear a little more weight if he himself could ever have been bothered to manage to learn to read and write Panjabi, instead of moaning (repeatedly) about his own lack of Punjabi spoken skills (it's never too late to learn - if you really want to, that is). The whole thing would have been more interesting if a) it was generally better written; b) less self-indulgent and c) less liberally sprinkled with trite clichés about Punjabi Sikhs (which mayo r may not be true - funny how they're all taxi drivers or OT consults, except for the author himself...) and the West Midlands (mock accents included, which he himself says he's happily free of in one of his snobbier moments). Incidentally, being a Punjabi Sikh does not necessarily mean that anything he has to say about that community is necessarily true - just as being a WASP doesn't mean that any old serotype written about working-class White families will also necessarily be true.
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on 12 March 2008
Having spent an afternoon in Waterstones reading the first few chapters, I decided to throw caution to the wind and buy the book (of course, not wanting to deny Sathnam the benefit of his royalties...:) )
What really struck me most of all is the iron will strength of Sathnam's mother throughout a whole host of events which would have made lesser people crumble. I salute her.

Without sounding sycophantic, I also admire Sathnam for his bravery in writing the book - no; it's not a self indulgent memoir (a la Katie Price), nor does it fall into that ever popular and populist 'misery' genre - but overall is a frank and brutally honest account of one man's account of coming to terms with his family and reaching an inner peace.

The only downside as far as I could see to this book are the photos - as someone of a similar age growing up through the '80s, the photos are testament to what surely must have been one of the most seriously unstylish periods in recent history.........(!!!!!)
That aside, I would highly recommend you to buy this book.
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on 22 August 2011
I could not put this book down once I started reading it. It was heart wrenching at times but also had lots of humour. Really well written.
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on 20 August 2010
I bought this book at Sathnan's suggestion after complimenting him on his articles in The Times. I told hime how moving and very readable it is and he asked me to do an Amazon review because 'the more people who know about shizophrenia the better'. You will be transported into a completely different world, (that is unless you are a Sikh from Wolverhampton!) and will read about it with humour, integrity and love.
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on 5 June 2008
Having been out with a guy from the same culture as Sathnam and being white I have suffered at the hands of an over bearing family that instantly disliked me and judged me as not good enough without even knowing me. I always thought that my boyfriend was weak as he didn't stand up to them and took it personally that he didn't want to be me with enough to make the commitment to force his family to accept us despite his protests that this simply wasn't the case and that I didn't understand asian family and community cultures/expectations, I always thought this was an excuse though! But having read Sathnam's memoir I've seen all this in a different light as so much of what I read resonated hugely with our situation, not only is this book one of the best written books I have ever read but it had me chuckling outloud and completely sympathising with him. This book really IS heart warming, light heartedly serious and we found it inspiring. I can't thank Sathnam enough.
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on 11 April 2010
Used to read Sathnam's column in the FT - always found him wryly amusing and very honest, even when this didn't paint himself in the best light. His book is a touching, revealing but also amusing depiction of his background and upbringing.
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on 20 August 2008
I hardly ever read novels, and although Indian myself, I certainly don't
read anything written by Indian authours (don't ask why!) but a nephew of
mine presurised me into at least trying this one. So, I thought I'd struggle through the first page....but then something unique happened. I found the book 'pulling' me.
It's beautifully written....and a very, very honest account of his life. It's not easy exposing the finer details of a persons life in public, but Sathnam has done an incredible job. A lot of British Sikhs/Indians will relate totally with his experiences. But you don't have to be British or Indian to be able to enjoy this great work.

Well done Sathnam!
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on 9 July 2010
This is far-reaching book which stirs a powerful response. It's a thorny read which resists
comforting its reader about the realities of mental illness or the
enduring tensions in the experience of minority communities in the UK.
But it's a joy to read too. No other book has ever made me laugh so
much out loud, or made me miss so many tube stops!
2 people found this helpful
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