Review: Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter by Yasmin Hai


by Shariq
27th March, 2009 at 4:00 pm    

The Asian immigrant experience to the UK is not a monolithic one. Yasmin Hai’s life story is a testament to that. However, there have been enough common experiences which mean that rather than simply being a charming memoir, this book provides a personal account of many of our debates on immigration and multi-culturalism, as well as providing genuine insight into the human condition.

The book starts of with a bit of biography about her father (naturally, given the title of the book).

Samsamul Hai was an extremely intelligent Pakistani communist who was forced to move to England after facing government persecution. This information is essential as Mr Hai’s values informed those of his daughter. In today’s multi-cultural climate some might scoff at his attempts to isolate his children from their parents culture and there is one scene in particular from Yasmin’s childhood which is particularly jarring. However Mr Hai’s ideas about integrating into the local society seemed to have come from thought out principles, rather than being a variant of the ‘Coopers’ on Goodness Gracious Me.

I think what makes this book so interesting is that by virtue of often being an outsider, Yasmin is able to bring perspective to a range of issues. Because her father forced her to integrate and encouraged admission into a more middle class school, she had a different outlook to the rest of her group of ‘bhaji’s’ in the ‘mohalla’.

Similarly, her experiences of being an outsider in her educational and professional lives give her the ability to critically evaluate the media and wider culture. Although crucially, having lived in that environment, rather than caricaturing it as several propogandists are wont to do, she does so in a nuanced way while appreciating the freedoms which she’s enjoyed.

As I said earlier, the Asian experience hasn’t been homogenous and one is reminded of that when Yasmin travels through the bleak and highly segregated industrial north, looking for stories in the aftermath of 9/11. This isn’t to say that she doesn’t find some warm and likable characters, but the contrast with the experiences of those that she grew up with in London is stark.

Ultimately, this is a very compelling story and there are a whole bunch of interesting issues which I hope to touch upon in the future. In many ways, it epitomises Pickled Politics. I don’t think I can give the book a better recommendation than that and encourage everyone to check it out.


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Filed in: British Identity,Culture






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  1. pickles

    New blog post: The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter by Yasmin Hai http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/3941


  2. Pickled Politics » An Interview With Yasmin Hai

    [...] An Interview With Yasmin Hai by Shariq on 1st May, 2009 at 9:31 am     A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to get to interview Yasmin Hai about her memoir, ‘The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter: Becoming British’. We discussed a range of issues from what has happened to her childhood friends who were more ensconced in the ‘community’, the interaction between class and identity and the role of the media in covering racial issues. The interview is after the jump and my review of her book can be found here. [...]


  3. An Interview With Yasmin Hai | Free Political Forum

    [...] A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky to get to interview Yasmin Hai about her memoir, ‘The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter: Becoming British’. We discussed a range of issues from what has happened to her childhood friends who were more ensconced in the ‘community’, the interaction between class and identity and the role of the media in covering racial issues. The interview is after the jump and my review of her book can be found here. [...]


  4. Book Girl

    "Becoming British …" by Yasmin Hai, a personal account of immigration, multi-culturalism and growing up http://bit.ly/yasminhai




  1. Sunny — on 28th March, 2009 at 2:51 am  

    It’s quite a readable book – though there isn’t that much social commentary in there I found. I read this a while back when it came out in hardback. Yasmin ended up writing some stuff subsequently, but never really flourished by writing more and following up. She’s sort of vanished since.

    At the time it came out, another book did too, which featured similar experiences, but I can’t remember the name now…

  2. blah — on 29th March, 2009 at 7:39 pm  

    These books inevitably follow the same general pattern:
    Everything western is great and everything in my own/parents culture/religion is rotten.
    I shall assert my individuality by following what the vast majority in this society do.

    Books which offer an alternate view simply dont get mainstream publishers.

    They act as a kind of propoganda balm to people from the majority culture to think “yeah we are better than them in every way and they should (and want) to be just like us”

  3. shariq — on 29th March, 2009 at 9:59 pm  

    blah – i guess your pattern isn’t an inevitability as that’s not how this book unfolds!

    her father was an orphan who became a communist activist. as such, he was the one who rejected the culture in which he came from and encouraged his wife and children to assimilate into british society.

    if anything, the book is like one of those in which the author spends more time with a different culture and realises that its not that bad after all.

    of course that is to undersell this book as her life is a lot more complex than that and the experiences which shape her are complex and don’t take place in a linear fashion.

  4. fugstar — on 1st May, 2009 at 11:21 am  

    sounds less like the cartoon blah decribes. maybe (s)he’s not actualy interested in lived muslim lives. but its true that autobiographys from muslims can be quite naff (unless its zia sardar’s).

    her fathers story sounds more interesting than the uk disintegration issues. that generation’s differential experience and outlook is a story that is very undertold to white people.

  5. damon — on 2nd May, 2009 at 10:34 am  

    I heard Yasmin Hai speaking about this (her book and her life) on some Radio 4 ‘Midweek with Libby Purves’ type of programme a while back.
    And being a liberal white guy, it was one of those listening experiences that had me reaching for my pen and note paper to catch the name of the author and book – and then looking it up on the internet for reviews of it.

    fugstar’s last sentence had me thinking a bit, and probably agreeing.

    With blah’s (me not being religious) I don’t really get his (or her) point.

    ”Western, eastern, culture, religion”?
    I suppose we get back into the Kenan Malik – Imran Khan merry-go-round.
    With me decidedly favouring Malik.

  6. damon — on 2nd May, 2009 at 11:29 am  

    blah said ”They act as a kind of propoganda balm to people from the majority culture to think ”yeah we are better than them in every way and they should (and want) to be just like us”
    I read that from blah, an hour ago – but I just got it properly now as I re-read it again.

    First of all .. what is the majority culture?
    I get a sense of (being part of the majority culture) … being railroaded.
    And that me and my brother-in-law (both being white guys) must probably share the same views about the things this Yasmin Hai book has higlighted.

    ”Majority culture”. Sounds pretty racist to me.

  7. damon — on 2nd May, 2009 at 11:53 am  

    Jesus – I wish you could edit after five minutes.
    I should have said that me and my brother-in-law might feel somewhat marginalised by blah’s comments.
    And that (even if me and him didn’t share the same views exactly) … ”gora wide” kind of comments, about what ‘we” might think are insulting.
    The ”majority culture” is diverse too.

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