Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman


If you spend more time on Twitter than is healthy then like us you'll have seen recently the outrage about Kim Kardashian's new hairstyle. 'Cultural appropriation!' cried bots and non-bots alike. We're not going to wade into that debate - highlighting it for the purposes of an attention grabbing intro is more than enough - but cultural appropriation is as tricky an issue in fiction as it is in a hairdresser. More so, even, we might say if we're allowed to... Is it, for example, acceptable for a 35 year old white man from Bedfordshire to write the story of an 11 year old Ghanaian immigrant? 

That's not a question for us to answer, but we will say we are glad he did. His creation - 11 year old Harrison - brings the excitement of childhood to life. He is an ebullient child, full of life and running and happiness, and when matched with his innocence (like the three stripes he draws on his trainers with a marker pen) the reader can't help but be drawn in to his adventure and in to his life on an unnamed but undoubtedly tough London estate. We walk the streets with him as he has numerous first experiences, getting used to this new life. 

This is a wonderful book with an unforgettable protagonist, portraying a life of the sort far too often hidden from view in depictions of London. In a perfect world, this would have been written by a Ghanaian immigrant. As the book demonstrates in heart-wrenching ways, this isn't a perfect world, but it is made that little bit better by the existence of a 35 year old white man's attempt to understand the life of a young immigrant boy.