After reading ‘The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken’ by Tarquin Hall, I started checking out the other books by the author. The one which caught my eye was not one of the Vish Puri series, but this one- ‘Salaam Brick Lane’. The fact that it was non-fiction, set in London’s East End sounded very interesting.
Tarquin Hall returns to England after 10 years abroad. Returning back he realizes to his dismay that he cannot afford to live in the leafy suburbs of his childhood. He had been priced out of the nicer London areas and the only place he could afford was a tiny, squalid attic, above a Bangladeshi sweatshop in London’s East end – Brick Lane. A place whose reputation precedes it. A place which he hopes is temporary, a place from where he hopes to move from before his Indian born, American fiancee lands in London.
Things don’t quite work as he planned, as most things in life. He ends up staying for a little longer than he had planned to. It was not quite the London he had planned to introduce his fiancee, Anu to. Living on a street filled with drug peddlers and prostitutes peddling their fare, it was not quite the London to write home about. And yet, despite the unsavoury characters and the reputation of the place, Hall discovers people and their stories just as any other place in the world. He discovers the world that immigrants have made their own. Some out of choice, some because they donot have a choice at all.
East End has a history of having been the place where immigrants have settled and have got absorbed into British Socieity. From the Jews to the latest in the line, the Bangladeshis. It was funny to read how some people who had come to Britain as immigrants now consider themselves British and are ready to campaign against the new immigrants. It was interesting to read how the East End has moulded itself over the years and taken over the characteristics of it’s latest inhabitants while absorbing them into a unique but still British Identity.
Hall’s narrative is interesting and non-judgemental and is fascinating read. It has a great set of characters, a lot of variety and their stories bring out a perspective to the East End some of us might have never known about. The life some of the immigrants lead, looked at with suspicion by some, being in a place, they never wished to be in the first place, was an insightful read. For others it was still a life much better than the one they left behind in the countries they came from. He adds in his personal story as well, which just adds to the flavour. His life with his fiancee, who is initially horrified by their surroundings(being mistaken for a prostitute doesn’t help, I’m sure!) but slowly comes to terms with Brick Lane, warts and all. As they chart their lives together, Brick Lane provides a fascinating backdrop in it’s character and colour. An intriguing narration of life as an East Ender by someone as far removed as possible from it, someone who has had a privileged upbringing, in London suburbs which are as different as they can be from London’s East End.
For me, it was full of insights and bits of history, which I found very interesting. An account of London’s immigrant hub, so to speak which seemed to have been the place immigrants have always migrated to. A place which has sheltered them and taken on their idiosyncracies and flavour, transforming into Jew town when the main immigrants were Jews and now, in it’s latest avataar, Banglatown. Who knows what it’s future holds, but whatever it might be, East end promises to be interesting and vibrant.
All in all, a great read. It’s a 4.5/5 from me. I have to say, I enjoyed Hall’s non-fiction a lot more than his fiction(I’ve just read one).
About the Author
About the Author
Tarquin Hall is a British author and journalist who has lived and worked throughout South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is the author of The Case of the Missing Servant, dozens of articles, and three works of non-fiction, including the highly acclaimed Salaam Brick Lane, an account of a year spent above a Bangladeshi sweat shop in London’s notorious East End.