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