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lime Books & Spoken Word Review: Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

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Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman






words by

Tricia Wombell

Reporter: Tricia Wombell
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It has been fascinating to observe the trajectory of Stephen Kelman’s first book, Pigeon English.


Before it was published last March, Waterstone’s hailed it as one to watch. 

Prior to that 12 publishers fought to have it and Kelman was given a big advance. It made the shortlist for the 2011 Man Booker prize and is also up for the Guardian First Book Award.

Kelman has imagined the life of a Damilola Taylor type character, before the fateful day when he was murdered by boys, not that much older than he was. The narrator, Harri, is an 11-year-old Ghanaian, who might be living in London illegally, with his mother and sister. His father and younger sister are still in Ghana.

Harri and his friends are trying to solve the murder of a school friend, by interrogating their school colleagues and neighbours, in what tends to be described as a ‘gritty’ South London tower block estate. Harri and friends have adventures in a world that is not at all innocent, the issues of loyalty, gangs, abuse against women, and single parenthood are all considered. Unfortunately since these are all viewed through the eyes of an 11 year-old boy, there is not really much insight, or real development of the issues. 

While this is a book for adults, it is clear that the publishers are positioning it as a book to be read in schools, and I’ve no doubt that it is where it will end up. A shame really, as there are so many other books that better cover multi-racial London.

Tricia Wombell blogs at Black Book News 

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