Suhayl Saadi – Psychoraag (2004)
- Laura Marney
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of All Time
'Salaam alaikum, sat sri akaal, namaste ji, good evening oan this hoat, hoat summer's night. Fae the peaks ae Kirkintilloch tae the dips ae Cambuslang, fae the invisible mines ae Easterhoose tae the mudflats ae Clydebank, welcome, ivirywan, welcome, Glasgow, welcome, Scotland, tae The Junnune Show.' Suhayl Saadi's debut novel demands attention from its first page onwards, as much by the sounds it conjures as by its story. This is a novel of linguistic fireworks: DJ Zaf addresses his invisible audience in a unique Scots-Urdu patter, with a dash of Gaelic and French thrown in for good measure.
Tonight is the last broadcast of Radio Chandhi, a temporary radio station based in a disused church, and Zaf ignores all requests, choosing instead a very different playlist on his final graveyard shift. He presents the soundtrack of his life, from the Pakistani ballads of his parents' youth to the Asian and Western rock songs of his adolescence. Zaf's memories come as thick and fast as the tracks, and reality and the surreal ('Junnune' means a trance-like state) dissolve as he recalls the daring escape by his parents from Lahore to Britain, his own destructive entanglement with Zilla who descends into heroin addiction and his relationship with Babs, the blonde nurse who in his mind epitomises whiteness.
This is a story of shifting identity, of hopes and disappointments, passion and separation, and a sense of simmering racial tensions threatening to break into violence on the streets of Glasgow. Psychoraag is nothing if not ambitious in its scope: from his radio booth, Zaf's monologue ranges over generations, continents and cultures. At times the sheer energy of the novel becomes almost manic. Saadi has written one of the most original and powerful novels to come out of Scotland for years.
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