Greetings From Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor

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Greetings From Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Tender, touching and clear-sighted, Greetings From Bury Park is an illuminating perspective on what it means to be British, Muslim and of Pakistani heritage, but perhaps even more it's the story of the pleasures and pains in father-son relationships, whatever the nationality, religion or cultural identity. A lovely read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747577119

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Sarfraz Manzoor was just two years old when he emigrated to Britain from Pakistan in 1974. His father had worked in the country for over ten years and so for him, it was not only a new country, but a new family set up. Manzoor's family were the typically industrious Pakistani immigrant family - his father worked long hours on the Vauxhall production line in Luton. His mother sewed clothes at home and he and his siblings were expected to help. Life was all about work, work, work and money, money, money. And for the young Manzoor, it seemed there was an awful lot of work, but precious little money was spreading his way. In comparison with some of his white peers, he had few toys, no fashionable clothes and an authoritarian father. He resented these things a great deal. In a bid for mental escape, he developed an obsession with Americana and in particular with the music of Bruce Springsteen. The Boss' lyrics about individual grandeur in the lives of the little people made perfect sense to him.

The frustrations of childhood in Greetings From Bury Park were immediately recognisable to me. They transcend nationality and race and I think most of us in our thirties and forties look back on our adolescence and realise the misjudgements we made about our parents. I think we all have regrets. We all wish we could have made them more proud than we did. But for Manzoor, this coming-of-age battle was complicated by the need to reconcile his Pakistani heritage, with being a Muslim and with being British. Children of immigrants often lead curiously dual lives and the pressures come from both sides. Manzoor is fascinating when he writes about this. He doesn't try to make sweeping judgements or to impose his experience on others. He just tells his story - where he got it right, and where he got it wrong. It came through very strongly for me that this is one man's memoir, not an attempt to provide some kind of so-called authentic template for every other British Muslim's life. I liked this.

Having said that, some of the situations are immediately familiar to someone like me, brought up in an area with a large immigrant Muslim population. Manzoor's parents were often suspicious of his white friends, and I remember this very clearly from friends of mine. It would take weeks of charm offensives before their parents didn't view me with suspicion and even then, I wasn't totally sure they liked me at all. I also remember the phenomenal pressure put on my friends to do well at school. They fairly buckled under it, and I'm sure, like Manzoor, it took years for them to be able to say that they were grateful for much of it and that they forgave the rest. I laughed at a lot of this book and I cried at a little of it too.

Y'know, I'm not so sure multiculturalism is doomed. People do like to associate with people who are like themselves. It's only natural. But with time, boundaries are blurred. We don't still live in pockets of people with either Norman or Saxon heritage. People are amazed when my mother recalls the hostility shown to her because she was Welsh when her family moved to London trying to escape the depression of the nineteen-thirties. I don't think we should try to homogenise ourselves, but neither do I think we should simply tolerate one another. That implies there's something to tolerate! I think we should show an interest in other people's lives, generally carry on in our own sweet ways, and let time take care of blurring the boundaries. Books like this are little steps along the way.

I loved reading Greetings From Bury Park and I'm glad Manzoor sees his father's immigration to Britain as the greatest gift he could ever have given his son. At a time when I'm despairing of so much about my country, it gave me a timely smack on the wrist to say that perhaps it's not such an ugly place after all.

My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

Billy Bragg also attempts to define his own national identity in The Progressive Patriot, while Nigel Slater's Toast talks about the death of a parent and a difficult paternal relationship. You might also appreciate The Cloud Messenger by Aamer Hussein.

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