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Londonstani: A Novelby Gautam Malkani
Synopses & Reviews
Out of London, a new and young comic voice whose rendering of the serious business of immigration and assimilation is both hilarious and mind altering.
Jas is in trouble. Because of who he is — an eighteen-year-old Asian living in London. Because of the gang he hangs out with. And because of the woman he fancies, Samira, who Jas shouldn't have taken a shining to because she is, as his pals point out, not one of his own. He's in trouble because his education, never mind his career, is going nowhere. And he's fallen into the schemes, games and prejudices of his friends on the streets of the big western city in which he lives. But Jas's main trouble is Jas himself, and he doesn't even know the trouble he's in, and try as hard as he does, he's failing to make sense of what it is to be young, male and what you might say is Indostani in a city that professes to be a melting pot but is a city of racial and religious exclusion zones. Without his parents' aspirations to assimilate, without the gifts of his more academically accomplished contemporaries, Jas is a young man without a survival plan to get by in the big city. He's out of touch, an anachronism posing as young man who's up-to-date, living free-style, making things up as he goes along in suburbs of West London.
Gautam Malkani's extraordinary comic novel portrays the lives of young Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu men in the ethnically charged enclave of one of the biggest western cities, London. A world usually — but wrongly — portrayed as the breeding ground for Islamic militants is, in actuality, a world of money (sometimes), flash cars (usually), cell phones (all the time), rap music and MTV, as well as rivalries and feuds, and the small-time crooks who exploit them. In Malkani's hilarious depiction of multiculturalism, race is no more than a proxy for masculinity, or lack of masculinity, among young men struggling to get by in a remorseless city. Just as Martin Amis and Irving Welsh captured the mood and the ethos of the eighties and nighties, twenty-nine-year-old Gautam Malkani brilliantly evokes the life of immigrants who are not immigrants in Londonstani, bringing an entirely fresh perspective to contemporary fiction as he does so.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Hear wat my bredren b sayin, sala kuta?' Told in a dizzying patois that borrows from British street slang, Punjabi, text-messaging shorthand and American hip-hop, Gautam Malkani's debut novel displays all the bravado of his swaggering young protagonists. The in-your-face language of 'Londonstani' promises that, despite its roots in the author's Cambridge dissertation, its portrait of British... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Asian youth will be anything but academic. They call themselves 'rudeboys,' these Sikh and Hindu wannabe-hoodlums from the not-so-mean streets of West London. Or at least that's how Jas, our narrator and guide, refers to the gang who have recently befriended him. But naming is a tricky business within the quicksilver world of urban youth culture. As Jas explains, 'First we was rudeboys, then we be Indian niggas, then rajamuffins, then raggastanis, Britasians, ... Indobrits. These days we try an use our own word for homeboy an so we just call ourselves desis.' Immersing us in the desi enclave of Hounslow, the suburb that is home to Heathrow Airport (and a borough recently exported to these shores in the film 'Bend It Like Beckham'), 'Londonstani' follows Jas and his mates as they beat up white boys, check out fit girls, reprogram stolen cell phones and ostensibly study to retake their A-level exams. It's hard not to be dazzled by the way this novel hurtles us into the rudeboy scene. Jas initiates us into the manners and mores of the desi subculture, allowing us to learn its slang, hear its music and master the finer points of its etiquette. Like Jas, a former geek turned aspiring tough guy, we feel privileged that this off-limits world has opened its doors to us. And for a kid like Jas — once stammering, shy, lonely and humiliated — this world is all the more seductive for allowing him to completely reinvent himself. The rudeboy rulebook promises that if you trade in your tight pants for baggy ones, your mopey Radiohead songs for the thumping beats of Punjabi pop music, your assimilated 'coconut' friends for a white-boy-bashing thug with a Sikh Khanda Sahib symbol tattooed on his arm, you too can become a new man. 'Man' being the operative word here. The novel's main interest lies in its characters' struggle to assert their masculinity in a community full of overbearing mothers and hen-pecked fathers. Though Jas and his friends — Amit, Ravi and Hardjit — put on a great show of embracing their ethnic identity, what really drives them toward desi culture is their fear of being perceived as spineless saps. As the book winkingly illustrates, the boys' worship of masculinity often verges on the homoerotic; with comic earnestness, Jas tells us that Hardjit's 'designer desiness, with his perfectly built body, his perfectly shaped facial hair an his perfectly groomed garms' makes him the envy of Hounslow's rudeboys. But it's not only important to cultivate the right look; equally essential in this pursuit of desi manliness are tricked-out luxury cars, top-of-the-line cell phones and all the other hallmarks of conspicuous consumption. In short, you need bling (an 'urban youth' term that we can now find, as one of 'Londonstani's' characters notes, in the OED). The book is at its strongest when Malkani demonstrates his sharp eye for the contradictions and absurdities of the pseudo-gangsta life these boys have fashioned for themselves. A chapter devoted to cars, and in particular the lilac Beemer they cruise around in (complete with spinners, under-chassis neon lights, chrome-plated gear stick, Sony three-way speakers and matching lilac windshield wipers), ends with the amusing revelation that the car actually belongs to Ravi's mum. Jas and his friends all still live at home; they use their sleek mobile phones to field calls from their parents; they conduct their illegal business in Hardjit's suburban bedroom as they snack on the samosas and Cokes that his mother has thoughtfully provided on a tray. Despite their posturing — and the very real violence they engage in — these rudeboys remain mama's boys at heart. Malkani's gifts as a social observer, however, are ultimately eclipsed by his agenda as a social scientist. His insights about the desi obsession with masculinity and materialism could have served as a rich subtext for these characters' behavior, but 'Londonstani' falls short of successfully transforming cultural anthropology into fiction. Over the course of the novel, the characters function more as ethnographic examples than fully imagined personalities. They begin to stagnate on the page as they ceaselessly rehearse Malkani's thesis. Without the momentum created by the choices and conflicts of fully formed characters, Malkani must insert showy plot devices (a secret interfaith romance, a secret international money-making scheme) to move the story forward. But then, having taxed our credulity and interest with the romance/thriller plotlines, the novel repays us with a genuinely surprising ending that casts the entire story in a new light. It produces the same immediate thrill that the book's audacious language does. Once that frisson fades, however, one wonders if 'Londonstani' might have been better served had this information not been hoarded until the end. Shock appeal would be lost, but depth would be gained — an exchange that the author should have made more often throughout this story. One wishes that Malkani had trusted himself and his material more; his writing achieves moments of real verve and power that suggest he doesn't need all the bluster and flash on which his anxious rudeboys rely. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is the author of the novel 'Madeleine Is Sleeping.'" Reviewed by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"It's the juxtaposition of...deeply serious subject matter and supremely funny dialog that makes Londonstani an exceptional book." Library Journal
"A promising debut." Kirkus Reviews
"Hilarious and grim, raucous and anguished....
"London's second-generation Asians are given the Trainspotting treatment in this slang-driven first novel." New Yorker
"[A] more-than-respectable first effort from a young writer....Flawed, but compelling, Londonstani might have been better marketed to older teens than adults. They'd certainly struggle less with the language." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"For every moment that Londonstani transports you right into the upstairs room of a Hounslow semi-detached...there are several where Malkani...tells us too much." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"One wishes that Malkani had trusted himself and his material more; his writing achieves moments of real verve and power that suggest he doesn't need all the bluster and flash on which his anxious rudeboys rely." The Washington Post Book World
Gautan Malkani's extraordinary debut comic novel portrays the lives of young Musilm, Sikh, and Hindu men in the ethnically challenged enclave of one of the biggest western cities, London. A world usually--but wrongly--portrayed as the breeding ground for Islamic militants is, in actuality, a world of money (sometimes), flash cars (usually, ) cell phone (all the time), rap music and MTV, as well as rivalries and feuds, and the small-time crooks who exploit them. In Malkani's hilarious depiction of the modern melting pot, race is no more than a proxy for masculinity, or lack of masculinity, among young men struggling to get by in a remorseless, callous city. Just as a Martin Amis and Irving Welsh captured the mood and the ethos of the Eighties and Nineties, 29-year-old Malkani brilliantly evokes the life of immigrants who are not immigrants in Londonstani, bringing an entirely fresh perspective to contemporary fiction in the process.
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."
About the Author
Gautam Malkani was born in West London in 1976. He was educated at Cambridge University and was appointed director of the Financial Times's Creative Business section in 2005.
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