We Move by Gurnaik Johal review – virtuosic stories of British-Punjabi life

The understated and surprising tales in this debut collection provide multiple perspectives on recurring scenes

The award-winning story Arrival, which opens Gurnaik Johal’s virtuosic debut collection, exemplifies his deceptively simple style. A young couple live near the airport, and a car has been left on their driveway by the sister of a friend. The car’s presence – its practicality and luxury – changes the couple’s relationship. Both humans and objects often appear or disappear in Johal’s stories, altering the destinies and dynamics of the protagonists’ lives.

These loosely linked stories are mostly set in Southall, west London, among a close-knit British-Punjabi community, with multiple perspectives introduced that shed light on recurring scenes. Characters reappear across stories to create new beginnings and to change endings and readers’ expectations. Johal writes about relationships with the assuredness of Akhil Sharma, as untranslated Hindi, Punjabi and Marathi words and idioms sit confidently on the page. Leave to Remain is less about crossing political borders and more about traversing personal thresholds. The Red River is less about assimilation and more about finding a room of one’s own. Strange Attractor and Haven Green explore such elusive concepts as serendipity and destiny.

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