21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A world of it's own - a family saga set in a convenience store,
This review is from: Marriage Material (Hardcover)
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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Initial post: 16 Jul 2014 18:26:36 BDT
Joanna Lovely says:
Mostly disagree with this review and others of 4 stars and more - found the book boring and predictable.
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