From the U.K., a funny, smart, and richly layered debut novel about an immigrant family.
Arjan Banga, the only child of a Punjabi couple who run a benighted convenience store in a crummy town in the West Midlands, thinks he's escaped his past. He works as a graphic designer in London. He's engaged to a white woman named Freya. He's practically post-racial. But when his father's sudden death from what is supposedly a heart attack calls him back to Wolverhampton to help his mother, he's instantly sucked back into the world he left behind. He spends "fifteen hours a day being patronised ('You. Speak. EXCELLENT. English'); having [his] name mutilated ('Ar-jan, is it? Mind if I call you Andy?'); dealing with people paying for Mars bars with £20 notes,...dishing out copies of Asian Babes to shameless septuagenarians,...being called a 'smelly Paki' by people reeking of booze and wee; and dealing with seemingly endless chit-chat." His only friend in town is a guy he grew up with, Ranjit Dhanda, whose own family's neighboring establishment has become a successful superstore while Ranjit himself has morphed into a ridiculous wannabe gangsta, "rebranding himself as 'Jay' " and speaking in a faux Jamaican dialect. Interwoven with the story of Arjan's miserable experience in Wolverhampton is the history of his parents' generation, which decades earlier had similar struggles with assimilation and racism, with familial duty and the siren call of freedom. Outlaw marriage is at the center of both stories, as is the political history of Wolverhampton, which is the author's real-life hometown and also the focus of his previous book, a memoir (The Boy with the Topknot, 2009).
Sanghera's precise, hilarious rendition of voices and cultural details is the signal pleasure of a novel rich in humor, history, and heart.