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Sunday, 22 February 2009

Greetings From Bury Park

by Sarfraz Manzoor

Sarfraz Manzoor was born in Pakistan in 1971. He came to England with his mother, brother and sisters when he was two years old, to join his father who had been here for 11 years. They lived in Bury Park in Luton, and this is his autobiography.

I found this book fascinating, very readable, and difficult to put down. Manzoor and I are only a few years apart in age. For most of our lives we have lived only a couple of hundred miles apart. We share some cultural frames of reference – Steve Wright in the afternoon; the Olympics; international travel. Yet our experiences of life have been so very, very different. As I read, I felt privileged by the insights he gave me into a community that I have experienced as both friendly and impenetrable.

This book is a tribute to Manzoor's father, who died in 1995. It's also a well-structured reflection on race, culture, religion, nationality, patriotism, politics, music, family, friendship and love. But it's not heavy or tragic. The author uses his own life as a lens through which to focus on these themes, and approaches them with a gentle, careful honesty that reminded me of my own English father's style.

Manzoor doesn't have children of his own – or he didn't at the time of writing. It is often said of writers that their books are their children. I think in writing this book, he is communicating with his readers about how he sees his culture and his identity in just the way a loving father might communicate with his child. He does this very differently from the way his father did it with him – in writing rather than in person is only part of that difference – and yet the fact that he does it at all is surely part of his father's legacy.

Of course I am also very different from Manzoor. For a start, I'm white and female. In that context, his main achievement with this book is even more impressive. He has done something that no politician, sportsperson, artist, entertainer or writer has been able to do for a long time now: he left me feeling better about being British.

I can think of two groups of people who wouldn't like this book. One is people who don't like autobiographical non-fiction, and the other is people who are narrow-minded. If you're not in either group, then I would heartily recommend Greetings from Bury Park.

Reviewed by Queenie

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Writing Therapy

By Tim Atkinson

This was a book that went everywhere with me during the time I spent reading it. It is one of the most unique books I have ever read. Once I'd finished reading it I felt a certain smugness, as if I alone had discovered a rare jewel.

The narrator is a young woman who leads the reader on a raw excursion into a joust with madness. Writing is used as a most valuable tool in amongst a battery of less useful therapies. Be warned, this book is not an easy read, it is not junk food for the brain and it demands the attentions of a 'thinking' reader.

The plot is somewhat disturbing and shocking in parts of the book and it twists upon itself in places as Frances uses her own words that she is writing to help her view herself and her behaviours from different perspectives, to help her come to terms with her experiences.

It is said that Jung discovered that drawing mandalas had power to bring order to the psyche and to prevent overwhelming disorientation. Mandalas are thought to transmit positive energies to the people who view them.

This book radiates spiritual energy and could even be regarded as a path to enlightenment by those struggling with writers block. I would postulate that Tim Atkinson's novel 'Writing Therapy' is the mandala of books.

'Writing Therapy' is also ideal for those preparing to write their first full length manuscript. It is an effective 'how to' book cleverly disguised as an innocent novel.
Tim’s blog url is: http://writingtherapyblog.blogspot.com/

Reviewed by DJ Kirkby