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29Apr

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota review – from northern England to Punjab

An alienated youth travels to remote rural India, where his great-grandmother lived in 1929, in Sahota’s hushed and subtle third novel

It’s a decade since Sunjeev Sahota published his debut novel, Ours Are the Streets, a bravura piece of imaginative intensity that took the form of a journal written by a would-be suicide bomber, a British Muslim of Pakistani descent, for his wife, a white British woman, and their child. The reader never discovered whether the planned explosion in a Sheffield shopping centre took place; that was peripheral to Sahota’s primary aim of exploring the cultural alienation and isolation that, in this instance, led his protagonist to radicalisation and violence.

The occasional narrator of Sahota’s third novel, China Room, is also alienated and isolated, though his response is to turn his violent unhappiness inward; at 18, he is in the throes of heroin addiction. His account of a summer spent in rural Punjab is interspersed with the more substantial third-person story of a young woman in 1929, whom we later learn was his great-grandmother.

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