Friday, March 16, 2012

Jubilee by Shelley Harris, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $29.99

Smart and insightful, familiar yet uncomfortable, watertight and believable, Shelley Harris' debut novel ticks all the boxes for a compelling, original and compact read.

With a quirky premise of a newspaper photograph snapped at an English street party to celebrate the Queen's silver jubilee in 1977, Harris confidently embarks on a versatile tale of criminal intrigue (blackmail), love against the (racial) barriers, all played out to a soundtrack of David Soul versus the Sex Pistols, in the Seventies-confused pop charts.

Satish Patel's parents fled Uganda under President Idi Amin's despotic rule, for a new life in "multi-cultural" Britain. Their 12-year-old son has endured mild racist ridicule in the playground so far.

Yet the photo of Satish, an Asian boy jubilant at his white majority village party — table piled high with Coronation Chicken and red, white and blue fairy cakes — becomes iconic; "…posing only a minimal threat to the house pricing," muses Dr Satish Patel, a paediatric cardiologist, 30 years later.

The camera doesn't so much lie, as conceal, and Harris will uncover the deeply disturbing events that preceded the snapshot.

When the photographer is keen to regroup for a reunion photograph, Satish's proud father wants everyone to see "the doctor" his son became, but Satish's vehement misgivings run much deeper than the memory of being the "Paki boy" no white neighbourhood mother would allow to stay for tea.

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