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Thursday, 23 September 2010
The Boy With The Topknot: a memoir of love, secrets and lies in Wolverhampton
by Sathnam Sanghera
Sathnam Sanghera grew up in Wolverhampton in the 1980s, a child of Sikh immigrants from the Punjab. The youngest of four, with two older sisters and one older brother, he had a happy, quirky childhood. But then, at the age of 24, he discovered the family secret - and it changed everything.
This book is the story of Sathnam's re-evaluation of his family relationships in the light of a secret which had been kept from him all his life. It is also the story of the two cultures into which he was born - the Sikh Punjabi culture that his elders tried to maintain, in the face of the secular Western culture which surrounded them - and the effect on Sathnam of belonging to them both. When the story opens, Sathnam is trying very hard to keep the two cultures separate, yet he desperately needs to create a bridge between the Punjabi and Western parts of his life.
Sathnam tells this difficult story with great compassion, considerable self-awareness, and delightful self-deprecating humour. Although this is a story of struggle, conflict, unhappiness and bewilderment, it is not in any sense a 'misery memoir'. It provides a fascinating insight into a tightly bounded way of life which I have glimpsed but never understood. After reading it, I felt I understood my Sikh friends better, but I also felt I understood myself better. I think this is because Sathnam pulls off that difficult writer's trick of using one individual's experience to illuminate the lives of others. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Queenie