Sunjeev Sahota - Ours are the Streets (4 stars)

Wholly measured would-be suicide bomber tale from British-Asian debut author

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Sunjeev Sahota - Ours are the Streets

(Picador)
A novel voiced by a would-be suicide bomber written by a British-Asian debut author was never likely to slip by unnoticed. Yet, there is little obvious material for the tabloids to get truly stirred up about as Sunjeev Sahota’s Ours are the Streets takes a wholly measured approach to the subject. Hinting at the lunacy of such extreme action, while laying out the terrain into which radicalisation can occur, Sahota is careful to leave the blame game to others. Perhaps this tactic leaves almost too much room for interpretation with our narrator Imtiaz seemingly transformed overnight from secular westerner with a white wife and baby daughter into a passionate jihadist hellbent on destroying himself and his Sheffield hometown.

His trip to Pakistan to give his late father a traditional send-off has Imtiaz witnessing some ill-behaviour by the US military and becoming all-too ready to strap on a deadly vest. While the speed and rationale behind his conversion is less than convincing, Sahota writes well about Imtiaz’ strive for true identity; being viewed with suspicion in Pakistan yet still treated as an outsider in the UK forces him into making his fatal decision. But the book’s finest, least trumpeted triumph is in its depiction of a loving relationship which has gone full circle and is slowly dying. When Imtiaz returns from his life-changing sabbatical he is virtually unrecognisable to his wife and family, with a new wardrobe, beard and worldview shaped by his recent experiences. The misery of choosing to blow yourself into oblivion is almost a cop-out next to dealing with the pain of human separation.

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