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24 April 2014

Gautam Malkani
Fourth Estate
Publication Date

Londonstani, Gautam Malkani's electrifying debut, exposes a city where young Asians struggle with white boys to assert their own, singular brands of Britishness.
Set close to the Heathrow feed roads of Hounslow  Malkani shows us the lives of a gang of four young men: Hardjit the ring leader, a Sikh, violent, determined his caste say pure; Ravi, determinedly tactless, a sheep following the herd; Amit, whose brother Arun is struggling for the approval of their devout Hindu mother for his Hindu bride-to-be; and Jas who tells us of his journey with these three, desperate to win their approval, desperate too for Samina, a Muslim girl, which in this story can only have bad consequences. Together they cruise the streets in Amit's souped-up Beemer, making a little money on stolen mobile phones, a scam that leads them into more dangerous terrain.
Funny, crude, disturbing, written in the vibrant language of its protagonists - a mix of slang, texting, Panjabi and bastardised gangsta rap - Londonstani is a bout many things: tribalism, integration, cross-cultural chirpsing techniques, bling bling economics, 'complicated family shit'.

The story about young Asians in London sounded very intriguing to me straight away. I'm interesting in Asian culture and how 'second or third/forth generation Asian children cope with living in the Western World and having traditional parents at home. (In common language, if you refer to Asians in the UK - it refers to Indian/Pakistani rather than other Asians i.e. Japanese etc). The word Londonstani refers in Urdu  language to a person from London. Like Pakistani is a person from Pakistan and Hindustani is a person from Hindustan(=the urdu name for India).

I'm sorry to say that I did struggle with this book and it took quite a bit for me to get into. Once I was by the half-way point, I did start to enjoy it and got into it a bit more, starting to feel for Jas and wanting to know how his story is going to end, but it so nearly became a DNF book. I think the major stumbling block for me was the slang language the book is mostly written in. 


 - Relax, Amit. I jus be jokin innit. I jus be chattin shit, checkin her out same way Ravi is, I go, trying to sound casual but not managing to sound casual enough. Not nearly casual enough. - But it in't as if she's like a strict Muslim, is it?
 - Wat da fuck is wrong wid'chyu? Wat da fuck'd I jus say Jas? None a us lot should ever b goin there, man. Don't matter whether she strict n dat. Jus don't b fuckin goin there, a'ight.

I know the book received some critical acclaim because it probably tries to explore how British Asians can turn into criminal behaviour and terrorism, community relations, pressures of growing up with different cultures etc.  It is a fresh novel with very current themes, language and characters. I did enjoy recognising some Urdu words (my husband speaks Urdu and I learned a bit), and few Bollywood actors which were mentioned i.e. Amithab Bachchan. (Not many books in the UK where this culture does get a mentioning). On the whole, the book wasn't for me I'm afraid.