wrong on so many levels

Last week I went to the reading that Monica Ali gave at Dutton’s in Brentwood. Ali read an excerpt from further along in the book, when her character Nazneen, a Bengali village girl transplanted to Tower Hamlets in London, goes with her husband Chanu and her daughters sightseeing around the city. After the reading was over, the hostess, in a white dentelle shirt, red flower in her hair, was the first to ask a question. “Please,” she said, “tell us about yourself.” Her interest in the author, if not the book, was apparent. An old man at the front wanted to know “Did you grow up in Tower Hamlets?” and so on. I thought when a book makes the bestseller list, it meant that people were actually reading it. Silly me. They’re just interested in the pretty girl on the cover. But it got worse. Someone else asked, “Were you raised black or white?” If she was stunned, Ali didn’t let on. She explained that she was in fact half Bengali and half British, that she was born in Dhaka and bred in London, etc. The man persisted, “Which parent were you closer to?” “Who did you talk to more?” he demanded. Welcome to the melting pot.


4 Responses to “wrong on so many levels”

  1. walter Says:

    My, oh my! This really makes our fair city look bad. I read somewhere that L.A is the first or second largest book market, but from what I can tell, books here tend to be like everything else, a prop to cast a certain image. They never seem to get read by the people who purchase them but how cool to have a shortlisted Booker on your shelf, right?

  2. moorishgirl Says:

    I forgot to add one thing: Someone asked her if she had a movie deal yet. Er… I think that covers it. Poor girl.

  3. thehiker Says:

    Actually one of the people asking the weird questions had a British accent and was quite old. Not that there’s anything wrong with old British folks… and not that I’m saying he wasn’t a real Angelino, but I wouldn’t blame our city for those questions. Er, well except for the movie deal one – gotta love Hollywood.



  4. Dud Says:

    Well, according to the UK’s Independent On Sunday:

    ‘..Monica Ali(‘s).. bittersweet debut novel, Brick Lane, is the object of a fierce bidding war between rival film-makers’

    See you in the multiplex !

    And here’s MA in the Guardian on the kind of flak that she catches at UK readings : –

    ” In an audience recently at the Bengali World Literature Centre in the East End, a woman invited me to take a test. “How can you know what it is like to be a Bengali mother,” she protested, “when you don’t even speak our language? Come on, speak to us in Bangla.” I’ve never subscribed to the “cricket test” and I declined the questioner’s test also. (My Bengali is limited now to some tourist-phrase-type inquiries, a few nursery rhymes or song fragments and a quite extensive culinary vocabulary.)”

    If there’s one thing that unites all races and cultures, it’s suspicion of a fluid or ambiguous ethnic identity…

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