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Archive by tag: Sukhdev SandhuReturn
May 27, 2022

A spirited and anarchic novel about 80s outsiders on a quest to bring magic to the landscape

“Without fields – no us. Without us – no fields,” wrote the great nature writer Tim Dee in his 2013 book Four Fields. He had a caveat: “These acres of shaped growing earth, telling our shared story over and over, are so ordinary, ubiquitous and banal that we have – mostly – stopped noticing them as anything other than substrate or backdrop, the green crayon-lane across the bottom of every child’s drawing.”

It’s this myopia that Benjamin Myers explores in his roiling, rollicking novel The Perfect Golden Circle, set during the long hot summer of 1989. Thatcher, apartheid, the Berlin Wall: things seemed solid then. In the West Country, though, history was being made at night; farmers were waking up to discover their wheat fields decorated with crop circles and other mysterious radials. Was it the work of extraterrestrials, or proto Banksys?

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Apr 29, 2022

A brilliantly unjaded exploration of the power of songs to intoxicate, enthuse and reassure

Jude Rogers’s The Sound of Being Human begins in January 1984. She is five years old and standing at the front door of her parents’ house in south Wales. Her father is about to leave for what should be a routine hospital surgery. He’ll be gone for five days – a lifetime for someone that young. Still, five days. Like him – because of him – she loves pop radio. The new Top 40 will be announced the following day. “Let me know who gets to No 1,” he says. He died, just 33, a couple of days later. Years go by, decades. Often, at moments she can’t anticipate, in ways she can’t always grasp, she finds herself caught short, lonely.

Music becomes a crutch for Rogers. A community – or at least a notion of one. She thinks about the songs she and her father shared. The songs they might have shared. In pop she discovers father figures, fantasies of escape, ways to feel less unmoored. She grew up in small towns before the era of the internet. Pop seemed miraculous then, a kind of abduction. She chances upon a copy of Smash Hits – all funfair colours and splashy exclamation marks – in a local newsagent: “It lifted me above the red-tops, the black-and-blue Biros, the duplicate receipts books, the faded toys on the carousel, the sun-blasted birthday cards, the old boxes of penny sweets.” She progresses to buying REM bootleg tapes from a grimy record fair held in a hotel showroom “next to the market that sold polystyrene pots of cockles and laverbread”.

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Apr 30, 2021

The charismatic Glasgow-born winger and indie music obsessive recalls his passions, and life in football before the riches arrived

In the 1980s, Pat Nevin was referred to as a “weirdo” by his teammates at Chelsea. Slight, good-looking and fond of wearing a leather jacket and ripped jeans, he was sometimes mistaken for Johnny Marr. His favourite writer was Albert Camus and he read Anton Chekhov on match-day coaches up to Newcastle. He was a mesmerising winger, but when an NME journalist described him as “the first post-punk footballer”, it was the word “footballer” against which he chafed; he saw the game as an activity rather than an identity. In In Ma Head, Son! (1997), a book-length collaboration with psychologist George Sik he published towards the end of his career, he worried about becoming an ex-player: “It’s a bit like people who continually go on about the war. They can’t stop talking about it. It was their finest hour.”

Those who tell you it was down to Sky TV and the Premier League for changing the atmosphere are way off the mark

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Feb 03, 2021

Addressed to Shukla’s young mixed-race daughter, these reflections – with rage and humour – consider the world into which she is growing

Nikesh Shukla begins Brown Baby by confessing that, when he was younger, he never considered becoming a parent. Then, in 2010, just a week after his first novel was published, his mother died of lung cancer. She was “the linchpin of my family”, he says. “Its heartbeat, its core. I was thirty. And I was most definitely lost.” Ten years later, he is the father of two young daughters. He is working very hard and mostly very tired. He finds himself spending the time he’s not thinking about his children thinking about his mother. He is caught between grief and wonder, endless memories of her and endless hopes for the grandchildren she never lived to see.

Shukla’s Gujarati mother liked to wear miniskirts. He says she “broke patriarchal taboos in our culture in the Sixties”. She did charity work and rebuked relatives who voiced anti-gay sentiments. Her brother was feisty too, making legal history as the first person to bring a case under the Race Relations Act when a house owner in Huddersfield refused to sell to “coloured people”. Yet she also had a vicious tongue that, growing up in Harrow, Shukla was often subjected to, not least when he insisted to her that he wanted to be a writer. “Tell me ten writers who look like you who make enough money to do this for a job,” she demanded. His naming Hanif Kureishi didn’t change her mind.

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Jan 12, 2021

A young Muslim woman in Kolkata is accused of a terrorist outrage, in a thriller about poverty and social aspiration that is also a moral drama

Megha Majumdar’s excellent debut novel begins with a pile-on, the kind of digital public shaming Jon Ronson has written about. A young Muslim woman named Jivan reads on her phone about a terrorist attack at a railway station near the slum in Kolkata where she lives. More than a hundred people were killed in the blaze. She posts a question – simple, pointed, instinctive: “If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean the government is also a terrorist?” Her question spreads across social media like forest fire. Monstrous accusations are hurled at her. She is alleged to have been spotted at the station carrying a bulky package and, worse, chatting online with someone the local police declare is a known terrorist recruiter. Charged with the heinous crime, she’s sent to jail to await trial.

A Burning isn’t just about Jivan. Her fate lies in the hands of two people who might be able to vouch for her character. One of them is Lovely, a young hijra (a long-established class of intersex and transgender people in India) to whom she has been giving English lessons. The other is a PE teacher, known as PT Sir, who sometimes fed her when she was one of his pupils. Both are set on changing their lives – Lovely is taking acting lessons to become a movie star; PT Sir, earnest and efficient, is courted by a political party that wants to be known for its law and order credentials. The novel is both a crime thriller in which Jivan battles to avoid execution, and a moral drama: will her old acquaintances risk their burgeoning careers to speak up for a vilified Muslim woman?

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Jan 06, 2021

A gentle memoir by a romantic journalist, who recounts what happened when, seeking to honour her father, she agreed to consider a selection of ‘suitable’ husbands

Huma Qureshi confesses early on in How We Met that she wasn’t sure about whether or not she should have written this memoir. It’s the story of how she found and later married a white Englishman called Richard. It is, she worries, “unextraordinary and normal and therefore an unimportant story to tell”. Self-chiding she may be, but her anxiety is not entirely misplaced: at a time when public discussion about race and culture is often shrill and self-righteous, at once accusatory and defensive, full of ologies and phobias, the quiet tone of her book – to say nothing of its guarded optimism – is almost shocking.

“Perhaps my story isn’t quite as dramatic as you’d hoped it would be,” Qureshi ponders. “Maybe you were expecting a story of oppression, repression, my personal trauma neatly spilled to fit a familiar-feeling narrative.” Her father was from Lahore, her mother from Uganda; both were graduates, and she grew up in Walsall, where even the most eventful weekend involved nothing more than relatives descending on their house, “cars parked up the road for miles occasionally annoying the white neighbours because of someone’s Mercedes half-blocking a pavement or a drive, the air thick with the smell of kebabs and biryani”.

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Nov 19, 2020

The Norwegian musician rebels against blandness and convention in a novel that veers from melodramatic teenscape to social panorama

Girls Against God, the second novel from acclaimed Norwegian musician Jenny Hval, is set in 1990s southern Norway, a place known for its “rainy climate, synthetic drugs and gracious reservation”, but also hostile to anyone who isn’t straight or white – even the kids who like grunge music are racists. “White revolution and Jesus revolution, Nazi punk and evangelist grunge, swastikas and purity rings, midmorning gruel, pimple pus, egg whites, cream of white, semen.”

In contrast, Hval sings in praise of shadows. She begins with an unnamed narrator studying a documentary about the corpse-paint-wearing Norwegian band Darkthrone, who helped birth the country’s emergent black metal scene. A diligent student of film, she scribbles a few notes: “Short, enigmatic and ugly video riffs on details from boring Norwegian landscape.” But the music, with its growled vocals and Stygian cosmology, is the necessary antidote to her bland surroundings.

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Oct 01, 2020

Britain’s first female DJ, who never became one of ‘them’, recalls a career that has spanned the Beatles to Billie Eilish

Irvine Welsh once wrote that Annie Nightingale was less a DJ and more “a surrogate cool big sister” to disaffected teenagers. “When the flatulent sounds of loud, boring, thick and egotistical men strafed the airwaves, Annie’s cool funky tones always stood out.” It’s true. Back when Radio 1 aspired to be an end-of-the pier knees-up, Nightingale never became one of “them”. She championed accessibly left-of-centre performers such as Ian Dury and Jonathan Richman, didn’t whoop or whinny; she paved paths for many others to follow.

Hey Hi Hello, published to mark the 50th anniversary of her first broadcast on Radio 1, is an agreeable if sometimes ragged mash-up of autobiography, transcripts of interviews with musicians from Bob Marley to Billie Eilish and testimonials from friends such as Underworld’s Karl Hyde. It’s less of a straight memoir than Nightingale’s Wicked Speed (1999), which contained vivid stories of travelling the world with the Police and endless bacchanals at her Grade II listed home in Brighton.

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Aug 01, 2020

Greenhorns, hustlers and dope dealers banter and bicker in this 1960s novel following migrants in London as they navigate racist landlords and English snootiness

The Lonely Londoners, Sam Selvon’s classic 1956 novel about West Indian migrants making their way in the old metropolis, ended on a blue note. Its chief character Moses found himself at the banks of the Thames brooding about things. Chasing skirt, having laughs, rum and revelry to fight off the frigid winters: was this living? It certainly wasn’t enough. He fears “a forlorn shadow of doom fall on all the spades in the country”, and that he and his friends are just “spades jostling in the crowd, bewildered, hopeless”. Perhaps, he wonders, his friends’ joie de vivre has been a lie. “As if the boys laughing, but they only laughing because they fraid to cry.”

By the start of The Housing Lark, published nine years later, life hasn’t changed much. Battersby (aka Bat) lies in a damp Brixton basement thinking about the good life and how far out of reach it appears. He’d like the warmth of a nice woman. Unlimited dumplings and pigtail soup. Most of all, he’d like not to have to worry about rent. His friend Gallows believes that “if a man have a home he establish his right to live”. Bat wants to feel less temporary, to be elevated to at least street-level citizenship. He and his pals cook up a scheme to pool their money and save up for a place, even if it’s in Croydon, they can call their own.

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