Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Ours Are the Streets

Ours Are the Streets
Sunjeev Sahota
London, Macmillan, 2011, 313p

Ours Are the Streets is the story of a young man's journey to extremism. Imtiaz begins writing his story so that his daughter and wife will remember him, and tells the reader about how he met his wife, Bekah. At university in Sheffield, they become lovers, and an unexpected pregnancy results in marriage. Bekah agrees to convert to Islam for Imtiaz, and despite the challenges of their youth, they are happy. 

When Imtiaz' father passes away, he travels to Lahore with his mother to bury him. At first, it feels odd to adjust to this place where everyone seems to know him, even though he has never given them a moments thought. But he remains an outsider, a foreigner, his light skin and accent giving away his British-ness. 

As he starts to make friends, he settles into this place as 'home', but their travels deep into Afghanistan change the man who left England not so long ago. 

Ours Are the Streets is a dark, tragic novel. From the earliest pages, you are aware something has gone wrong - Imtiaz shouldn't be writing letters for his daughter to remember him, and it soon becomes clear where he is going. 

I found Imtiaz' transformation to be somewhat oversimplified. He doesn't seems dissatisfied with England; not even when he finds himself having to justify the West to his new friends in Pakistan. He comes to enjoy the feeling of being part of something in Afghanistan, though it was unclear that he felt disengaged when he was in Sheffield. And his 'decline' into extremism is articulated through paranoid rantings, which I felt belittled his decision to become a fighter. 

I am not convinced that this novel is the most reliable and straightforward exploration of a young man's transition into a potential terrorist, but Sahota's novel is a bold, gripping story that I would definitely recommend. 

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