Text Book


A writer for the Financial Times, Gautam Malkani has set his debut novel not in the titular city but in Hounslow, the largely South Asian area around Heathrow. Londonstani‘s second- and third-generation immigrants revel in their distance from old London even as world travelers zoom through their airspace: They’re just as alienated from Great Britain as their ancestors were. The rudeboys—the young men who fancy themselves the South Asian, or desi, mash-up of black gangsters and the Mafia—want nothing to do with New Labour, David Beckham, and Royal Pronunciation. It’s a choice of necessity, reacting against the goras (whites) and the coconuts (assimilated desis, who are brown-skinned but act “white”).

Jas, 18, narrates in a complex patois that’s half text message, half South Asian transliteration. He obsesses over his identity—a former gora-imitator himself, he falls in love with a young Muslim girl even as his friends laugh at him for crossing the religion line. The rudeboys and their traditionalist parents remain fixated with racial, class, and religious stratification in a world where, to everyone else, they all look the same.

Early in the novel, the rudeboys, led by the physically terrifying Hardjit, beat up a gora for supposedly calling them “Pakis.” Hardjit teaches his victim that “A Paki is someone who comes from Pakistan. Us bredrens who don’t come from Pakistan can still b call’d Paki by other bredrens if it means we can call dem Paki in return. But U people ain’t allow’d 2 join in.” Of course, Jas admits, this isn’t exactly true: “[M]any Hindus an Sikhs’d spit blood if they ever got linked to anything to do with Pakistan.” No term, in the end, unites these non-immigrants.

Thus they turn to capitalism for guidance. Londonstani
constantly references Beemers, Hugo Boss, and Diesel to emphasize this culture’s love of conspicuous consumption, and finds its climax in a convoluted cell phone scam that leaves Jas struggling with his rudeboy persona. But Jas’s fruitless and ultimately deceptive musings on race make him more of a desperate liar than a marginalized hero—he ends up just as hollow as the coconuts he despises.

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