Metin Aydemir Aydemir itibaren Przewodów, Polonya
As far as novels in general go, this is very good, but as far as first novels go, this is pretty outstanding. Smith has a very well-developed narrative voice, and while I personally found some of the humor more liable to pull me out of the story than to make me laugh, the novel's tone is very consistent and well-thought-out. I also wonder if the humor was actually intended to do just that -- to tease out the real-world implications of things like subtle racism and classism and what's it's like to look different from your peers or have immigrant parents. If so, then this worked beautifully, even if I wasn't really laughing. While the novel has many 'big topic' themes (you know, the usual, identity, religion v. science, race, gender roles, history), the most important one is immigration and the immigrant experience. Almost all of the main characters (excepting Archie) are first or second generation immigrants in England. Particularly in the younger generation, there is quite a struggle to build a coherent identity that makes sense of the conflicting values being pressed upon the characters (Millat, Magid, Irie) by both family and society. From Millat's perspective, being part of a fundamentalist religious group helps him find semi-solid ground: "He knew he had no face in this country, no voice in the country, until the week before last when suddenly people like Millat were on every channel and every radio and every newspaper and they were angry, and Millat recognized the anger, thought it recognized him, and grabbed it with both hands." Millat believes that immigrants like his father are nothing, are no one, are unable to make a mark on the world. This is poignantly expressed by his anger about his father's story of scrawling his name on a park bench when he first arrives in England and then feeling extremely guilty. Towards the end of the novel, Millat's plans (semi-spoiler alert!) to take action at the FutureMouse debut are his way of trying to turn this around and make a name for himself. The character Irie experiences the most growth throughout the novel among the younger folk, moving from extreme self-hatred to acceptance of her unique appearance and some smart aspirations, despite a lack of mentorship and support. As she imagines traveling to Jamaica (her maternal family homeland) and finally feeling a sense of belonging, Smith writes: "Because we often imagine that immigrants are constantly on the move, footloose, able to change course at any moment, able to employ their legendary resourcefulness at every turn." It's true. We do often imagine and expect that immigrants in our country are willing and able to embrace every aspect of our culture, language, and value system without struggle. It's silliness. Samad, Millat's father, is a first-generation immigrant who grew up in Bangladesh. He feels deeply altered by the immigration experience: "And then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie.. and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident." This really made me think - what would it be like to not feel like I belonged where I was living, and to feel that way for decades? It's impossible to imagine. Most interesting to me was this quotation: "Because homeland is one of the magical fantasy words like unicorn and soul and infinity that have now passed into the language. And the particular magic of homeland, its particular spell over Irie, was that it sounded like a beginning." Beyond what it says about the immigrant experience, I also like the little thought-provoking jab of pessimism Smith adds by throwing the soul in there as a comparatively un-real idea. This is pretty typical, if a more subtle instance, of Smith's humor. Overall, an enjoyable book with a lot going on. Lots of characters, all of them solid and very seriously flawed, and jumps through time over decades (and even a century in one case) that are well-written and illuminating enough to take in stride.