|The Man Who Came to London by A S Cookson|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 242||Date: December 2017|
|Publisher: Peaches Publications|
In 1948, the first set of Caribbean nationals arrived in Great Britain on a ship called "Empire Windrush". They struggled to find housing. They worked as labourers. They faced open discrimination, forcing them to quickly form their own community. Decades later, Freddy makes the same journey.
Does he find a place to live? Does he face stereotypes? Has Britain moved forward?
Freddie arrives in London in the early 2000s, answering the call for teachers. He thinks about his own Jamaican education, based on the British system, and the way he was taught English nursery rhymes and about the River Thames. He thinks about the love of cricket and football, shared by both countries. And he thinks of the generations of the diaspora who came before him. Freddy does well in his job in East London but he does have to face down some stereotypical attitudes from his pupils - all Jamaicans smoke weed, don't they? Everybody knows that!
But Freddy is interested in more than just his job and immediate surroundings. He gets fully into Olympic fever, looking forward to the London games (and especially the performance of the Jamaican track team). He discovers the dual nature of snow in Britain - everybody gets excited but all the trains and buses give up the ghost and everybody gets annoyed. He takes a road trip and discovers sleepy villages and the colleges of Cambridge University. He sees a murmuration of starlings and is entranced. He discovers other diaspora communities through food markets and restaurants - Indian chicken curry is a very different thing from Jamaican curry chicken. He's delighted to find Caribbean heritage poet Benjamin Zephaniah on the school curriculum (me too, and he writes fabulous young adult fiction to boot). It's not all positive though and Freddy observes the 2011 riots with great sadness. The whole book is full of engaging and illuminating anecdotes like this, but I've given enough away. For more, read it yourself!
I absolutely loved reading The Man Who Came to London. The thing that comes through most strongly from the book is A S Cookson's curiosity. He's curious about the UK generally and also about how it will compare to the stories he heard as a child. Britain - or rather, England - had seemed to him an almost mythical construction but one with a great deal of influence still in Jamaica, despite independence, and he sets about reconciling myth with reality in the most positive of ways. Even when he's being critical - he notices the first world problems in schools, where pupils are much less committed to their education than in the Caribbean, for example - he never sneers or mocks or condemns. He's interested in the dynamics of British society as well as its quirks and idiosyncrasies. This makes the book not only very readable but also poses subtle challenges to (my own) assumptions about how my society works. It's fascinating to see one's world from the point of view of a newcomer and much in The Man Who Came to London really made me think. I also loved the vein of generous humour that runs throughout every page.
At the end of the book, there is a list of questions and talking points that will be very helpful for classroom or book group discussions. And The Man Who Came to London is perfect for those discussions. Ethnic Britons can explore how their country appears to newcomers. New arrivals can compare experiences. Second, third and fourth generation diaspora kids can discuss the lives of their parents and grandparents. I hope those discussions will be as full of curiosity as A S Cookson's life-affirming book. Because that would do it more justice than any review I could write.
You can read more about A S Cookson here.
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