Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review : Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

If someone asked me to describe this book in just a few words I’d say that Pigeon English is this year’s Room. And that because the narrator is a young boy here as well, but not one kept in captivity, but an immigrant that arrives to London from Ghana with his mother and older sister, and having to live in a housing project, which feels like a ghetto, is trying hard to adapt to this new reality.
     Harrison Opuku is a boy gifted with lots of imagination and love for the others as well. A kid, like the kids used to be, before the digital era arrived with all its side effects: hard and tender at the same time, poor but satisfied with his life, a big dreamer, but above all someone who cares about other people. The hard facts of his life so far may have made him a bit more mature than other kids of his age, but the cruelty of this world did not manage to take away his goodness. If he becomes strong headed and hard every now and then he does so in order to survive, and he’d never try to bring harm to anyone; at least not intentionally. Harri, if nothing else is someone who knows how to love. He loves his mother, who’s trying quite unsuccessfully to put the fear of god, or rather of her, into him, to give him discipline; he loves his sister, Lydia, who every now and then seems to be somehow losing it; but most of all he loves Agnes, his little sister who’s stayed behind in Ghana, and who’s going through a serious illness. And he sure loves his dad, and misses him, since he was left behind too.
     Harri, however, doesn’t only care about playing all day or just for his family. He also cares about the people around him, especially if something bad comes their way; anything bad. And that’s exactly what happened to a boy his age, who was killed for his lunch. Harri, having his friend Dean by his side, is determined to find out who the killer is, since the police doesn’t really seem to care that much, and bring him to justice. Of course it will not prove so easy to accomplish this mission, due to the lack of experience and founding. However, using tricks they pick up from CSI and their very special binoculars, the boys will set out on a journey of discovery. During it Harri will come to learn and understand more about the country that’s now his home and will also start creating new words, while throwing in a few aphorisms for good measure, every now and then as well: “I do know the shape of a mother’s grief”, “Grown-ups love sad news, it gives them something special to pray for”, “Laughing is the best way to make them admire you”, “That’s why people wave to each other, because it makes them belong”. Wearing his new shoes, which are definitely Bo-styles, he’ll also come to realize that he’s the best runner at school and that will prove handy in a number of occasions.
     The narration though, even it has at its epicenter Harri’s everyday life, is also used as a tool to criticize the modern English society. A society where crime became a way of life for many kids, where the people living in the poor areas feel and are excluded from the equal opportunities that everyone talks about but no one is working hard enough to establish, and where the authorities do not do too much to stop things that are considered disgraceful when happening in the third-world countries, from taking place on their own turf.
     Kelman seems to have taken over the body and the mind of his narrator, so his voice sounds more than convincing. Harri is an eleven year old kid and he sounds exactly like that. He may have been through a lot already, but his soul remains pure, childish; but also kind of sly and curious.
     This is a great novel about growing up and coming to terms with the world around you, and is highly recommended to anyone who’s interested in good literature.

No comments: