A talented new writer whose portrayal of the serious business of assimilation and young masculinity is disturbing and hilarious
Hailed as one of the most surprising British novels in recent years, Gautam Malkani's electrifying debut reveals young South Asians struggling to distinguish themselves from their parents' generation in the vast urban sprawl that is contemporary London. Chronicling the lives of a gang of four young middle-class men--Hardjit, the violent enforcer; Ravi, the follower; Amit, who's struggling to come to terms with his mother's hypocrisy; and Jas, desperate to win the approval of the others despite lusting after Samira, a Muslim girl--Londonstani, funny, disturbing, and written in the exuberant language of its protagonists, is about tribalism, aggressive masculinity, integration, alienation, bling-bling economics, and "complicated family-related shit."
Malkani's debut novel is set among the South Asian rudeboys of London's Houndslow section. Aimless, middle-class 19-year-old Jas is adopted by a small gang headed by Hardjit, a Sikh bodybuilder, that includes sexual braggart Ravi and Hindu nationalist Amit. The crew, with Jas in the backseat, ride around a lot in a Beamer and say things like, "Dat bitch b trouble, u get me?" To make money, they unblock stolen cell "fones." This attracts Sanjay, a Desi entrepreneur who hires them and organizes their activities. Briefly, the money rolls in, and Jas, taken under Sanjay's wing, makes the more hazardous move of courting the beauteous but Muslim Samira Ahmed. Hardjit's feeling about Muslims and Samira's brothers' feeling about Hindus mean that disaster starts mounting for Jas before you can hum a chorus of West Side Story. Malkani, who is director of the Financial Times's Creative Business section, follows such masters of the London subcultural slumming sendup as Martin Amis and Will Self, but this book doesn't have the verbal gear to keep up; Jas's strained, graffiti-like teen talk is wearying (as is a major plot point centered on the EU's value added tax) and never rises to the kind of Burroughsian lyricism one is hoping for. And a final twist on race isn't much of a surprise. (June 26)
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August 26, 2007
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