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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 26 September 2013
A wonderfully written story of three generations of a Wolverhampton Sikh family, Marriage Material is first and foremost a hugely enjoyable novel. Spanning almost half a century, it is a story of politics, race, identity and, at the heart of it all, family. Having escaped from the family run Bains Stores, Arjan has moved to London, is working as a graphic designer and become engaged - to a white woman. However, the death of his father obliges him to return to the family business to help his mother - a temporary arrangement with no exit plan. Alternating between the 1960s and the present day, the story unfolds to explore the conflicts within and between families, communities and generations.

This is a stunning novel, in turns gripping, sad, funny and as the final truth is revealed, shocking. Marriage Material is a portrait of a time and a place, and a study of community and family and their power to divide and eventually, to unite. Told throughout with warmth, humour and an authenticity that reflects the author's own family background, I'd thoroughly recommend it.
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For quite a few years now I've known Sathnam Sanghera as an always-interesting newspaper columnist and although I knew he'd written a couple of books,they didn't really grab my attention until Marriage Material came along this month. I got hold of a copy and I thought it was so good I finished it over the weekend. It's witty book, describing the lives of a Sikh family in the insalubrious city of Wolverhampton, and is full of insights into life in an immigrant community.

The story is told by Arjan Banga, a young Sikh whose grand-father came to England in 1955 with just a shilling in his pocket. With high hopes for a decent career, "Mr Bains" ends up in retail by buying a shop in the insalubrious city of Wolverhampton. By 1968 when the book opens, Mr Bains' shop is fairly successful, but at great personal cost to himself for he is now confined to bed with a variety of ailments, while his wife and two daughters run the shop.

The older generation of Sikh's like Mr Bains have to struggle with their children's' desires to get out of retail and do something more profitable. His growing girls seem to have ambitions for education while all around him Sikh boys go off to London to work in graphic design and I.T and horror of horrors, enter into mixed marriages with white English girls. Those who remain in the retail trade are a different breed, abandoning the old ways in favour of rap music, dope and souped-up cars. In Marriage Material, Sanghera deals with all these issues with a mixture of wit and pathos, illustrating the dilemmas of an immigrant community as he takes us through this family saga.

Mr Bains eventually dies and his younger wife takes up the management of the store on her own. Grandson Arjan, who has a successful career in London feels the pull of family loyalty and threatens his relationship with white English Freya as he goes back at weekends to help get the shop onto an even keel. He finds himself almost overwhelmed by the staggeringly long hours and the mind-numbing boredom of sitting around waiting for customer, while long-suffering Freya shows starts to lose interest in coping with a Sikh boyfriend whose extended family seem to come higher up the priority list than she does.

As I read the book I learned much about the low-level racial abuse which passes across the counters of these shops on a daily basis. The Sikh shop-workers let it all pass over them but it must be wearing, particularly for Sikh's to be branded as potential terrorists and to have "Taleban Paedo" painted graffiti-style on their shop windows. Sathnam Sanghera has a wry sense of humour and a great sense of irony which enables him to contrast the quiet dignity of the shop workers with the ignorance of the shop's customers as they buy their daily supply of obesity-provoking sweets and drinks.

Marriage Material is a very good read. It's essentially the story of a family but the setting and the culture makes it an eye-opener to anyone who ever wonders what goes on in the rooms above the local "all-day shop". Sathnam Sanghera is an accomplished writer who has turned his skills as a reporter to good effect in this fine novel.
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on 12 April 2017
It was for Mrs Grace. She thoroughly enjoyed and has recommended it to others.
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on 18 March 2017
Very good read , enjoyed by my book club
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on 26 September 2013
I can only heartily echo the comments of other 5-star reviewers about this book. I agree with all the praise they have for it for the same multitude of reasons. Sathnam Sanghera is in my view an incredibly talented and versatile writer who draws on his own fascinating experience to produce both non-fiction and, now, fiction, that is engaging, moving, educational and often hilarious. I loved this book and will be recommending it.
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on 26 September 2013
This novel is a beautiful story and very touching.
I have already bought it as a gift for several friends.

The story resonates and rarely do you feel such empathy with the main protagonists when they live a life so far removed from your own.

It was incredibly meaningful with an unexpected drama at the end.

Historical elements were interweaved so cleverly. I learnt alot that i am embarrassed to say i didn't already know.

I loved this novel - well done Sathnam Sanghera for providing such insight in such entertaining form.
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on 3 March 2016
an excellent book, nicely matched with arnold bennet's the old wives tale (which also deserves to be read if you haven't already)
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on 1 October 2013
SATHNAM Sanghera, author of The Boy With The Top-Knot, has just become The Man With The Top-Notch Novel Under His Belt.

For his debut novel, Marriage Material, is an unputdownable and thoroughly rewarding read - and not just because it's the most accurate and interesting evocation of cornershop life since the TV sitcom Open All Hours.

Like most journalists who write novels, Sathnam majors on authenticity and credibility; although it's a work of fiction, everything in it feels like it did happen, or could have happened, and he never resorts to coincidence but supplies us instead with first-rate realism.

In some ways, the subject matter is bleak - cultural in-fighting, control-freak families, and racism - but Sathnam presents it to us so engagingly, so engrossingly, that we can't stop turning the pages.

It's ostensibly a tale about a Sikh family running a cornershop in Wolverhampton, set partly in the present and partly in the Sixties and Seventies when Enoch Powell's Rivers Of Blood speech set the cat among the pigeons in a country that was largely, to our retrospective shame and embarrassment, deeply and openly racist.

The Sikh culture doesn't come out of it terribly well, but neither does the dominant and intolerant white culture of the time.

And should anyone misguidedly use this book (or The Boy With The Topknot: A Memoir Of Love, Secrets And Lies In Wolverhampton by Sanghera, Sathnam (2009)) as a stick to beat the Sikh culture with, they might be well advised to look in the mirror and examine their own culture's shortcomings first.

Take arranged marriages and obsession with money, for instance. Sikhs and other British Indians may be criticised by some on both counts, but if you took arranged marriages and enquiries about how many pounds a year a potential suitor makes out of Jane Austen's novels, she'd have had precious little left to write about for her mostly white English audience of the time.

And before anyone scoffs at the characters in Sathnam's novel for hating each other and worse because they're from different castes, take a look at the white British bigots in Northern Ireland who behave exactly the same in the 21st Century and still have to live either side of so-called Peace Walls to stop them beating the Hell out of each other in the name of the same forgiveness-preaching God that they both claim to believe in.

Although Sathnam doesn't quote it in this novel, I couldn't help thinking of Gandhi's reaction when he was asked what he thought of English civilisation.

"It would be a very good idea," he said.

That aside, the novel is a lid-lifter on what it was like - and is like - to be a British Sikh. In much the same way that Goodness, Gracious Me! transformed the image of British Asians and made national treasures of Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir and Nina Wadia, this novel and Top-Knot are seminal works that will change anyone who reads them.

But that risks making the novel sound like it belongs on the Worthy But Dull shelf. It's anything but!

Sanghera's characters are lovable and loathable, engaging and infuriating, and, most importantly, we can't help caring about them.

The central character deserves a sequel or two, just as David Nobbs did with Henry Pratt, and Sathnam must surely have enough material to go the distance.

This novel is beautifully and intelligently written, witty and thought-provoking, and I can't wait to see what Sathnam does for an encore.
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on 25 March 2016
I had enjoyed Sathnam Sanghera's first book, an autobiographical account of growing up as the child of Indian immigrants in the UK and so was interested to see how he'd get on at fiction. I found Marriage Material a 'mixed bag' of good and bad.

Starting with the good - I bought into the day to day minutiae of life in a 'corner shop' and I quite enjoyed the contrast between the two generations of shop workers. On the downside, the title is ridiculous and does the book no favours, no doubt appealing to those in search of something about arranged or forced marriage (neither of which is very relevant). I also found the 'reveal' with the missing Auntie a bit too trite and the absurd show down in the Gents at the local 'Singhfellows' (genius branding) too silly for words.

I would no doubt buy any further books by Sanghera but not at full price.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 August 2014
3.5 stars

I'm not familiar with The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett that is purportedly the inspiration for this story. Which means I've probably missed something vital in understanding and appreciating this book.

Without knowledge of the forerunner, this is the story of Arjan Banga's family and corner shop in Wolverhampton (my own hometown), and the generations that have grown up and worked there, from his grandfather who set it up with his young wife, to aunt Surinder, mother and father,
and onto his own schooldays and memories centred there.

I enjoyed the details of shop life. Of Asian (Sikh) life. Of immigration and the world of Enoch Powell's Wolverhampton. As a child of the 80s I was blissfully unaware of this history in my own childhood years there, so Sanghera did have a lot to show me.

I did find the back and forth of the narrative confusing on audiobook, never quite sure what time period I was in for a while. And I'm afraid the Black Country accent of the narrator seriously grated with me - not so much his "Wolver-rampton" as his "Dud-Loy" (Dudley). But that's not a comment on the book.

The story of mixed caste and mixed race love is also a good tale. Surinder an interesting character, Arjan himself not as strong as her or his parents and grandparents, despite narrating.

Quite eye-opening in parts. Preferred 'The Boy in the Topknot' but did like this ode to my own childhood home. Will be looking up the Arnold Bennett book.
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