Saturday, February 16, 2013

Five top books on immigration & multiculturalism

David Goodhart is the director of the think tank Demos and editor at large at Prospect magazine.

One of his five top books on immigration and multiculturalism, as told to Alec Ash of The Browser (in early 2012):
Brick Lane
by Monica Ali

...The novel opens in Bengal before moving to London’s East End – so we empathise from the get-go with the immigrant perspective.

I thought Monica Ali was brilliant at getting under the skin of a Bangladeshi woman brought to England as part of an arranged marriage. There’s a spirit in her that wants to break out. In that sense it’s a very Western, Hollywood narrative of breaking out from constraint. I wasn’t quite sure about the communication with the sister in Bangladesh, which I didn’t feel quite worked. But I thought it was a fantastic read – a sweeping, Dickensian novel. Monica Ali has lived in Britain most of her life, middle-class and completely Western. But she is herself from a Bangladeshi background, and brings insights from that world.

A lot of people say we will have problems integrating immigrant groups into British society, for instance because of their attitudes towards women – the purdah notion of not having contact between women and non-family men, and other traditions that we see as constraining and discouraging gender equality. But equally, I’ve heard it said many times that the great hope for improved integration in Britain are the young women who do well at school and go to university. But then they don’t want to marry the young men from their community. Nazneen, the protagonist of this novel, is an emblem of that. She breaks out and wants to take part in the fantastic freedoms and opportunities that British society offers.

As Monica Ali did.

Absolutely. It would also be good to mention the other novels about these issues that I’ve read and learnt from. Andrea Levy’s Small Island is one, about the Caribbean experience. It’s particularly brilliant on what I call the original sin of immigration, which was the appalling way that we treated Caribbeans when they first came to Britain – exacerbated by the fact that they came with such high expectations, expecting to be embraced because they had invested part of their national identity in Britain.
Read about the other books Goodhart tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue