Academic Writing

 On this page I will occasionally be republishing things I wrote for other reasons, mainly university essays, at least the one which weren't totally shit.

Migration, Fiction and Redemption: coming to London in Peter Akinti’s Forest Gate and Brian Chikwava’s Harare North

[This dissertation was originally submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA Comparative Literature (African and Asian) of the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)]


Migration, Fiction and Redemption: coming to London in Peter Akinti’s Forest Gate and Brian Chikwava’s Harare North

London is no stranger to migration but in recent years debate on the subject has grown from a whisper to a roar. But how has this clamour, originating largely from the media and popular politics, been represented in literature? London’s migrant communities have long produced texts which compare multiple cultures and societies and carve out a place for newcomers within an imaginary projection of the city, holding up a mirror to migrant experience yet simultaneously combatting a culture of otherness based on ethnicity and origins. Both Harare North by Brian Chikwava and Forest Gate by Peter Akinti examine life in exile post-globalisation: in a world where social mobility has become rarer than ever and changing country has no straightforward correlation with changing economic or social position.

The novels allow the city itself to be somewhat personified: it becomes an entity which can trap you, rob you, test you. They reject a simplistic view of migration as escape to a better place: both Ashvin and the narrator of Harare North are followed to London by their persecutors in Somalia and Zimbabwe respectively. Both books also remind us that there have always been many Londons, some visible, some less so. Older books often investigate journeys to and from London in its role as the ‘heart of empire’. Now the centre ‘cannot hold’: the symbolism of London has changed and the ways it oppresses or saves likewise.

This paper aims to establish what these changes are, and what their implication is for imaginings of London in general and of its migrant communities in particular. The novels could also help us to understand the ‘migration debate’ from a more cultural and collective perspective. From these two novels and others like them, we can begin to map a comparative, cross-cultural and international picture of how humans seek to change their lives and why. Perhaps migration could even become a metaphor for the human experience more generally, at least within artistic representation?

Clearly similar, yet markedly different in their conclusions, Harare North and Forest Gate offer two (three if we count Ashvin’s death) different endings to the story of young black Londoners. This paper will chart the messages implicit in the endings of the two novels, and their impact on a cultural and social projection of migrants in London. Looking at the way the city functions to shape the novels, this paper will research the ways a novel contributes to social commentary, and transcends or reaffirms popular views on London’s migrants and minority ethnic communities.

Migration, Fiction and Redemption: coming to London in Peter Akinti’s Forest Gate and Brian Chikwava’s Harare North


1.     Writing Black London                                                          
2.     Londons within London: Forest Gate and Brixton               
3.     Identity and Voice                                                                         


To establish his own identity, Caliban, after three centuries, must himself pioneer into regions Caesar never knew. [1]

This paper will examine Peter Akinti’s Forest Gate and Brian Chikwava’s Harare North in the light of three principal areas of theory and criticism: diaspora/place, identity and ethnicity, and the function of fiction in the migration debate. Taking as its starting point the depiction of London in the two novels, it will explore to what extent Lyn Innes’ observation is still true
[London’s] very role as the metropolitan heart of empire also ensured it would become the heart of resistance to empire.[2]
and in what ways this can lead to useful observations about modern fiction about migrants in London. The geographic focus on London will be accompanied by a reflection on diaspora writing, and the migrant’s position within British culture. As Procter observes, diaspora studies combine both travel and settlement:
The etymology of diaspora suggests both routes (scattering) and roots (sowing). Diaspora in this sense is inseparable from, and dependant on, dwelling.[3]
For this reason we will investigate London as a whole, coming to the city and leaving it, and the city’s representation in relation to the other locations in the novels. James Procter and his references including Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy provide us with a framework of research into migration, the city and Black British writing. Procter suggests that
Black British writing has not been satisfactorily ‘placed’ in relation to the landscapes and discourses within and alongside which it has been produced, disseminated and consumed. Part of the reason for this prolonged critical neglect of place has to do with the ‘placelessness’ of those post-national, post-colonial diasporic vocabularies and frameworks currently being used to ‘describe’ black cultural production.[4]
By focusing on London, this essay intends to contextualise and analyse the relationship between location and the migrant, and how this is explored symbolically and politically in two very contemporary novels.

In order to contextualise the two novels against the rich variety of Black British writing on London, we will develop a comparison with one of the most important post-war novels on migration, Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, looking at how attitudes to migration have changed both for the genre’s literary producers and its readership, as well as society more generally. Later, Diran Adebayo’s novel Some Kind of Black will provide a counterpoint for the more recently-written subjects of this paper, enabling an analysis of the representation of a Black identity, with the multiple questions and possible answers this implies. In this investigation of identity, we will use Homi Bhabha’s theorisation of a particular space for migrant voices within discussion of nation and migration, and employ theories of minority discourse to examine the importance of those voices within the novels, and within British society more widely.

Forest Gate is symbolically rooted in the eponymous inner city district in East London, yet its story moves around; now in war-torn Mogadishu, now in a small Cornwall seaside resort, finally in the rural provinces of northern Brazil. The author Peter Akinti creates international parallels: linking the war in Somalia, the racism and drug use of disaffected youth in rural Cornwall and the strength and pride of Black Brazilians constantly back to Forest Gate and its environs. Not all of these connections are negative: the novel is heavily inspired by works on exile and travel by black writers such as C.L.R James, Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Inextricably associated with the novel’s many geographic movements are the main characters James and Meina, and the memory of Ashvin, Meina’s brother and James’ best friend until their joint suicide attempt. They exemplify the rootlessness of London’s young Black Londoners, whether born in the UK or abroad, who can only fit into Forest Gate by limiting their own potential as human beings.

Forest Gate reveals a parallel world unknown to many Londoners, depicting a nightmarish network of drugs, crime and social pressure which seems at odds with the multiculturalism also celebrated within the novel. At the same time, it shows James’ struggle to become a whole and independent person, a struggle which takes him from teenage rebellion and nihilism to a strange kind of redemption. In Brazil, where he has gone to find his nephew after his brothers’ deaths, James and Meina are able to find a pride and a peace that seemed impossible in London. As a literary device this could be read in a number of ways, yet the conclusion of the book implies that emigration is the solution to the problems faced by Forest Gate teenagers. Could it be that this literary genre is unable to offer any hope to young people living in London’s poorer estates? Is escape, not confrontation, the secret of fulfilment and resolution?

The protagonist of Harare North has no intention to stay in London for any longer than it takes to earn US$4000 to pay off corrupt police officers back in Zimbabwe. This unnamed, undocumented narrator is distinguished by his deeply problematic, subjective and unreliable perspective on Zimbabwe and London; and as he struggles to make ends meet in Brixton his whole world view will gradually be transformed: by news from home, by multiple, conflicting explanations of the world around him, and by the fundamental dishonesty and hypocrisy of London’s treatment of undocumented workers. By the end of the novel the narrator has suffered a breakdown, and the strong parallels drawn between him and his best friend Shingi lead to a merging of their characters. Harare North concludes with a loss of identity so deep and violent that it might as well be death for both Shingi and the narrator.

1. Writing Black London

Shifts in representations of Black London over time
In Dwelling Places, James Procter looks at how Black British writing has been shaped by the environment in which its creators have lived and worked since 1948. To establish a theoretical framework for novels about London, we will use his analysis of Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956), in comparison with the two novels and in the light of other research into Black British writing about London.

Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners is a core text, key to the establishment of a Black British canon, and Procter identifies within it three major and sometimes contradictory moments or processes in the establishment of a migrant community: travelling, settling and dwelling. As he observes in the introduction to Dwelling Places,
To read black Britain in terms of a series of territories or dwelling places is straight away to contradict the logic of diaspora discourse, which has tended to foreground the deterritorialised, itinerant nature of migrant cultures.[5]

However, we will see that even within a given dwelling place there is scope for a number of different journeys, different kinds of settlement or dwelling. (Procter’s distinction between dwelling and settling is useful here and hereafter: ‘dwelling is a spatial and temporal process, rather than a signifier of closure or resolution.’[6] For the protagonists of our two chosen novels, dwelling has no simple correlation with security or permanence, both of which can only be found in the imagined past or future.) Furthermore, in the contemporary novel there are more and more methods to reduce the world to comparisons, using metaphor and narrative devices to represent postcolonial, post-globalisation migrant positions in a manner unthinkable in the 1950s. London, the erstwhile ‘heart of empire’ and still a huge and important global city, provides the site of any number of different movements and contrasting perspectives, and in this section we will examine how these function in the light of Procter’s research.

At the opening of Selvon’s novel, its hero Moses travels by bus to meet a fellow-Trinidadian arriving on the boat-train to London.
So for old time sake Moses would find himself on the bus going to Waterloo, vex with himself that his heart so soft that he always doing something for somebody and nobody ever doing anything for him.[7]
In fictions about migration to London, there is always somebody already there to welcome, to introduce the new arrival to their community, and at the same time to assert their own cosmopolitanism: ‘telling them how Brixton is a nice area, that it have plenty of Jamaicans down there already’.[8] In the 1950s as in the 2000s, no path is untrodden for migrants coming to London: there is always a sense of repetition in the initial journey. In Harare North, Waterloo has been replaced by Heathrow as the important point of arrival, and Sekai’s welcome is even more ambivalent than Moses’ when she collects the protagonist after his release from the detention centre: ‘She not even bother to shake my hand and only greet me from safe distance and look at my suitcase in funny way.’[9] When it comes to negotiating London’s public transport system, the ‘old hands’ show their superior knowledge through practicalities: familiarity with ‘the tube’ and with British money reveals the ease with which both Sekai and Moses navigate the city, and marks a physical helplessness in the new arrivals.
Sekai snort in mocking way, roll she eyes and look at me.
In the end she buy the ticket.[10]

However, both Sekai and Moses feel the responsibility of the settled migrant. They understand the rules of the city, and it is up to them to impart that knowledge to the newcomer, even though they may not feel personally welcoming. There is a tension between the idea of community, with the ‘closed-shop’ loyalty of a single ethnic group against the difficult pluralisms of London society this implies, and the personal differences in aim, in attitudes and in the level of desire to become a ‘Londoner’ or to retain ties to the old country. In Harare North, the narrator’s first difficulties of integration are mediated through first-generation migrants (Sekai and Paul), to whom the appearance of fitting in is crucial to life, and the narrator’s resistance to this is constructed by the author to undermine assumptions of homogeneity in, for example, Zimbabwean asylum-seekers.

Since the 1940s, the establishment of a huge range of different and constantly evolving ethnic communities in London has replaced any possible representation of a specific community with the kind of multiple perspectives visible in Sekai and Paul’s relationship with their cousin. At the same time the articulation of a single homogenous ‘black experience’ has been challenged from every side, a development with new potentials and problematics explored by Stuart Hall in 1988:
[H]ow a politics can be constructed which works with and through difference, which is able to build those forms of solidarity and identification which make common struggle and resistance possible but without suppressing the real heterogeneity of interests and identities... It entails the movement in black politics, from what Gramsci called the ‘war of manoeuvre’ to the ‘war of position’ - the struggle around personalities.[11]

We will see that this shift in the politics of representation is mirrored in the physical representation of London’s geography. While narratives of West Indian migration in the 1950s focus generally on a one-way journey towards the capital, newer novels reveal a whole variety of movements driven by different objectives and different imaginings of the city. For this reason is it useful to compare Selvon’s London with contemporary novels, focusing on the political and geographic changes wrought by globalisation through the latter half of the twentieth century. Moses, who has been in London for several years, has a completely different status to the Somali and Zimbabwean characters we will be examining. Caribbean people were actively invited to come to London and contribute to the booming post-war economy, meaning that despite hostility and racism in the UK - ‘this is a time when the English people starting to make rab about how too many West Indians coming to the country,’[12] - he had the right to stay. James’ grandparents would have come from Jamaica in a similar way, and Forest Gate refers frequently to a difference in the popular perception and social status of second- and third-generation Britons of West Indian descent and ‘Africans’. ‘“How could you let some traumatised African boy make you put a rope around your neck?”’[13]

Another element present in The Lonely Londoners and many other novels of its generation which is noticeably missing from Akinti and Chikwava’s books is the celebration of the city. Even though black migrants faced more direct racism in the 1950s, Moses enjoys many moments of joy as a resident of London, as in this stream of consciousness:
Oh what a time it is when summer come to the city and all the girls throw away them heavy winter coat and wearing light summer frocks so you could see the legs...[14]
Although Selvon and his contemporaries describe racism in the streets, there is a sense that the open public spaces belong to everyone. This passage also employs highly sexualised imagery, another element missing from Forest Gate and Harare North. The parks and the girls in their summer clothes are available to Moses in a way that is completely absent from the modern novels. In Forest Gate the only significant white characters are representatives of institutions; police and medical professionals, and the book repeatedly questions how constructs of ethnicity affect sexual relationships, consensual and non-consensual: the white police officers sexually abuse the two boys, Ashvin rapes his Ethiopian ‘enemy’ and when James asks out the Eritrean waitress, she says ‘“I don’t date black men”’.[15] The characters in Harare North interact only with marginalised white Londoners- Shingi sleeps with a Polish prostitute, and they live with the outcast junkies Dave and Jenny.

Arriving in London, facing the barriers of its institutions, and comparisons to ‘home’
In describing London, it is possible to assert one’s ownership of the city at the same time as rejecting territory as the foundation of political or identity autonomy. Thus both Akinti and Chikwava make descriptions of parts of London fundamental to their narrative, at the same time as blurring the divisions between city and country, the new country and ‘back home’, and the ‘first’ and ‘third’ world.[16] Akinti emphasises that no single view of the city or of Forest Gate is more significant than another, and while the same social problems are repeated, the social position and perspective of their object renders them totally different.
Like Rushdie, [Bhabha] draws attention to the transformational powers of a cosmopolitan migrant culture, for not only do migrants reimagine their ‘homelands’, their places of ancestral origin, they also ‘impose their needs on their new earth, bringing their own coherence to the new-found land, imagining it afresh’. [17]

Both authors refuse to recount migrant journeys as they are so often shown even in the liberal press: as the journey from a dangerous, dark, poor place to a place of opportunity, light and safety. The reimagining of London suggested by Homi Bhabha is dependent on how they have perceived their country of origin, and means that for every character London should logically be recreated as an entirely new city (although Akinti fails to fully reflect this multiplicity in the perspectives of his minor characters.) When we compare Ashvin and Meina’s relocation from war-torn Mogadishu to Forest Gate with the narrator of Harare North’s trip to London, in both cases the act of travelling is secondary to the act of settling in London, and the cultural translations inherent to the new location. The comparisons of Africa and London are foregrounded from the moment of arrival.

The narrator finds that his (Zimbabwean) expectations that his host will pay for him are meaningless in the new social context: Sekai ‘have turn into lapsed African’.[18] Similarly, Ashvin and Meina find themselves having to ‘learn on the job’ when they first negotiate another British institution, Forest Gate Community School. The teacher mispronounces Ashvin’s name ‘with a flicker of amusement’[19] and the class (in an area where 56% of the population comes from an ethnic minority[20]) bullies him for his trousers and his ‘“no name” trainers’[21]. As in Harare North, there is an implicit unfavourable comparison with Somalia: ‘At home... it wouldn’t have mattered... boys were grateful for whatever they were handed down.’[22] It is clear that there will be no Manichean dichotomy between what the characters are escaping and what they have come to find. From the offset we see not only a loss of ‘traditional African values’, in itself a problematic and stereotyped notion, but also an aggression in London’s institutions that is mimicked by and reflected in its citizens, both indigenous and migrant, almost unconsciously.

Later, the characters will discover African communities- the Somali café in Forest Gate, the Zimbabwean squat in Brixton, and African migrants’ ways of teaching and helping each other over these obstacles (a grapevine of undocumented labourers, forged papers, fake bus-passes, etc). As in The Lonely Londoners, the city is opened up by networks of older migrants, except that now these migrants have multiple ethnic origins, and multiple ways of manoeuvring the city’s traps.

London and the visibility of migrants
As well as British institutions such as school, police and hospitals, we see the narrator’s ventures across the city on public transport, posited as a transient and moving threshold between ‘everybody’s’ London, as recognisable by the reader, and the unseen, interior London unique to undocumented workers. ‘He [Paul]... even take me to platform for Victoria Line’.[23] These networks are almost the same for all Londoners, yet even these pose problems for the characters.
[Suleiman] flash his fake bus pass and immediately put this hard-set look on his face, looking straight ahead rigid as he march like soldier past the bus driver.[24]

The two novels draw attention to the differences between the Londoners who use the transport system, in what we can interpret as a crucial political process of rendering the invisible visible. Many will have little or no contact with each other in their homes, places of work or leisure activities, yet the Tube and bus networks are a site of conspicuousness for the poor, the silenced and the illegal. However, this visibility is not guaranteed, and Meina’s trip into town after identifying her brother’s body provides an almost modernist critique of Londoners’ choice not to see each other- or not to look.
I counted twenty people packed together, like we were in a sauna with people from all over the world...
There was a black woman in her thirties... She was a single parent and a bank teller, probably recently born-again, praying fiercely for a drama-free white man to stabilize her life. There was a young African with a sharp new haircut, dreaming of being granted asylum, wearing all the right gear but still not fitting in. [25]
There is a possibility for Londoners to observe, to understand, even to communicate with each other on the Tube, but it remains dormant, while passengers struggle to protect their individual Londons in this site of heightened potential sharing and discovery.

Other parts of London, particularly areas which are world-famous as public spaces, are shown in the two novels to be off-limits or hostile to the characters, functioning to remind them of a second-class citizen status which is always more potent in Oxford Street or Piccadilly Circus than in Brixton or Forest Gate. For example the reaction to the narrator of Harare North in the shops of central London: ‘them shop assistants look at me in that usual London way when them people think you is in the wrong place but don’t tell you straight and square.’[26] Despite welcoming millions of tourists every year, the famous sights of central London are revealed in Harare North to be economically driven to prioritise their customers along racial lines.

In Forest Gate, James and Meina have a brief but happy time together where they visit less celebrated landmarks such as Camden Lock, well-known as an alternative to central London’s exclusive shops, with James in the role of guide. This honeymoon shows London as a multicultural tapestry: ‘he would paint the Senegalese boys who sold shit weed and I painted the markets stalls and the canal boats.’[27] Yet as a young black man, James feels more self-conscious outside of Newham, where he has experienced fights with strangers which leave him ashamed and scared: ‘“I felt the shame of fighting with another black guy. I was pushed into doing something I would never want to.”’[28] Even though James knows the city and doesn’t suffer the financial constraints of the migrants in Harare North, central London pushes him into a racially stereotyped role he hates.

Later, Akinti problematises any possible escape for James through the ‘upwardly mobile’ channels of education and entry into a profession. James sees a lawyer in Chancery Lane, a ‘tall and angular dark-skinned black man’ wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch. Peter Akinti had worked as a lawyer himself in Chancery Lane before becoming a writer, yet the encounter is filled with anxiety, ‘like [the lawyer] knew he was one false move away from the street’. Akinti thus criticises the idea of a meritocracy for talented young Black men in London: James is able to identify a vulnerability in the man despite his status which reminds us that success despite one’s race and class is never assured, and that London will not necessarily accept social mobility in a Black man who makes it despite the odds.

2. Londons within London- Brixton and Forest Gate
We have examined arriving, crossing and settling in London within the two novels. Now we will look more specifically at the two areas singled out in the novels. Do the presentations of Forest Gate and Brixton contrast with the city as a whole or even work against the unwelcoming, money-driven and dangerous atmosphere of London’s famous centre, its chaotic transport networks and its ethnicity- and class-based hierarchies? Can the idea of ‘community’, with its connotations of multiculturalism and ethnic solidarity, provide an antidote to the anonymity of the big city and a link with the migrant’s former home?
But as in the earlier part of the twentieth century, the presence of a black and Asian community in the metropolitan centre also helped to create a new sense of community and shared aims between representatives of the new colonial cultures in Britain and ‘back home’. [29]

Firstly, Brixton and Forest Gate may have once represented communities with shared aims, yet now both Akinti and Chikwava strongly emphasise a lack of solidarity and an omnipresent sense of alienation. ‘At Brixton station people is leaping into my face from every direction. None of them talk to each each.’[30] From Heathrow to Central London to inner city areas like these, the impulse in public is to ignore others and focus on one’s own task, which appears to African newcomers like Meina and the narrator of Harare North as a sad, lonely surprise in their new city.

In Dwelling Places, Procter investigates the difference between exterior and interior spaces in the city, focusing particularly on the way that a person who is marginalised in the outside world can create and maintain elements of their identity behind closed doors. This can even be reflected in the outside appearance of the buildings where migrants live: in her sociological study of black settlement in the 1950s, Newcomers: The West Indians in London (1960), Ruth Glass shows that the inner residents’ social and position and even their residency status is reflected in the bricks and mortar.
The faces of the buildings tell whether they are the ones in which the migrants are concentrated... These are the streets of transition where a number of West Indians have found rooms.[31]

Harare North is mostly situated outside of central, touristic, famous London. The narrator stays for a while in an unnamed part of East London, before finding his way to ‘Shingi’s head’, the squatted terraced house in Brixton. As soon as he sees the house, the narrator identifies it as the home of his friend:
Below them sad eyes there is one large bay window that stick out like nose. When I look at the nose, the eyes and black parapet wall - this is Shingi straight and square.[32]

Even in mixed, multicultural Brixton, the Zimbabweans’ squat seems to ‘stand out’. The building the narrator describes appears to be the kind of turn-of-the-century brick terrace common in every working-class area of London. Nonetheless the narrator identifies it among the others in the street, perhaps because it will become important to him, but also in a kind of reverse phrenology: the house and Shingi are the same because they both represent his connection to London, his right to stay and work, and his specific position in London among other impoverished Zimbabwean undocumented workers. The house in Brixton is in complete contrast to the anonymity and multiplicity of the tube, a distorted reflection of the Londoner’s sense of security and individualism in his ‘castle’.

However, the house, and its occupant, proves to be neither secure nor individualistic; later it will be shared, unwillingly, with the junkies that Shingi meets, and the two young men will find that they are being cheated into paying rent to Aleck who in fact is squatting the place. One by one, the residents are forced out and finally the narrator will find himself hiding alone in Shingi’s head. In the two novels, houses do not always afford protection, and both contain scenes which reveal that for a migrant, the distance between the safe interior and the dangerous street is ever fragile and porous. Police knock on the door, squatters come and go, windows are broken.

Meina and Ashvin in Forest Gate have slightly more security in their improbable council flat,[33] which functions as a place of genuine refuge for Meina and James for much of the novel. However, outside of the flat itself Akinti emphasises the real danger of an East London council estate. As a young woman, Meina is the target of male attention from gangs when she walks down her own road, and we discover that the criminal underworld of Forest Gate has marked every street as the territory of lower-caste gang members: ‘They don’t sell drugs or fight. They just stand there talking real fast into pretend microphones.’[34] Fear is created here by the broaching of threshold and barriers: one young man
drove a stolen car through my neighbour Helen’s living room.... Helen walked around visibly shaking... and one day, about a week after the incident, she was gone, traded her one-bed for a two-bed in East Ham.[35]
Helen reflects Akinti’s message that the only way to supersede the violence of Forest Gate is to leave: and as a teacher she has the option to quit the estate for a slightly more respectable working-class area on the other side of the borough.

We see within older novels that the act of occupation can over time lead to a sense of ownership of the streets within specific communities: when dwelling becomes settling.
I had walked this street for more than two years, at first curious, with a sense of adventure which offered me the details of the houses and the fences. Now it was my street. It seemed I had always walked it. It was a convenience which had been created for me.[36]
However, three generations, later this ownership has become distorted by the need of disenfranchised residents to territorialise the streets where they live. Ownership is still possible but has become privatised by specific groups: so when James comes into Meina’s neighbourhood she is instantly protected by his brothers’ reputation.
“One of my boys spoke out of turn to your missus... They didn’t know. No disrespect.” Ratchet’s tone was severe.
“It’s cool,” said James. “It’s your manor.”[37]
While communities still exist as functioning social units, for young black men this has been replaced by ‘turf wars’, reflected in the jargon ‘manor, ends, hood’, and disparaged by the rather stereotyped Pakistani mini-cab driver the couple encounter: ‘“These boys they don’t like work. No school. No job. Bad boys. Lazy.”’[38] The clichéd immigrant dream he expresses, and the failed dreams of Ratchet and his boys, reflect Akinti’s fascination with the manifold ways that migrants interact with where they live.

Forest Gate: a community to build or a prison to escape?
James Procter has investigated the importance of dwelling places for migrant populations in their various figurations: the significance of the street and interiors as sites of struggle, and the conflict between permanence and security and the itinerant existence of someone denied ownership of his/her dwelling place. We shall compare how the different characters interact with their living environment, and put this into perspective against the other described and implicit locations in the novel: Mogadishu, Brazil, Cornwall, central London and Jamaica.
The horizon, as far as the eye could see, was enveloped in the gritty fabric of the London skyline at night, traces of the permanent stench, the stooping rhythms of failure: aerosol cans, empty plastic carrier bags, orphaned toys, rubbish everywhere... all scattered relics from battered lives. [39]
In the opening chapter of the book, Meina describes how her brother and his best friend James climb to the top of the twin council housing blocks that loom over Forest Gate’s common land, preparing to jump off and hang themselves. The image of the two boys looking down over Forest Gate returns throughout the book[40], and is explained by James in comparison with US racism, ‘“Like the lynchings in America. To me everything kind of feels the same.”’[41] The Forest Gate of the novel is a reimagined Forest Gate where the estates are named after famous black men and the businesses are slightly different, yet in principle a real area famous for crime, poverty and the highest level of population movement in the UK, particularly migration from abroad.[42]
We went to his flat on Lansdowne Road. Near the house the police raided for terrorists and then shot that guy by mistake, starting that whole fuss in the papers.[43]
Akinti paints a picture of an area where the population is constantly changing yet there is little chance of escape, and focuses on the lack of opportunity for young black men, drawing comparisons with the USA of Richard Wright and James Baldwin.

As in the US, young men hang out on the street corners. Ratchet, the young man whose gang runs the streets around Meina’s council estate, has known temporary success:
“He got a 18,000-pound advance by Black Dawg, bought a 7,000-pound Rolex, some trainers and a piece of shit SUV with 33-inch rims that were more expensive than his ride,” laughed 1.[44]
Now Ratchet is begging the Morrison brothers for work for himself and his gang in their drug-dealing business: his success was temporary, security intangible. Meanwhile James, who reads the classic American black writers, sees no way out from the life Forest Gate has created for him. ‘Think of every tired cliché you’ve ever heard about black men. I’m trying desperately hard not to become that. I don’t want to become a stereotype.’[45] Later, we will see that James’ brothers cannot transcend what they see as the life Forest Gate itself prepares for black 17-year-old men. ‘This is your home, don’t be driven from it. You have to survive.’[46] However, it is crucial to understand that Forest Gate (as the Brixton of Harare North) is never shown as a final solution or a final destination for the characters who come there.

Forest Gate and diaspora
The plot of Forest Gate begins in Somalia and ends in the north of Brazil. Thus Forest Gate also becomes a space to reflect on Somalia, and Meina and Ashvin’s comparisons between Somalia and Forest Gate are often negative:
She had not realised that the streets of London were carved out into territories just as they had been at home. But here it was not by clans but by class, education, wealth, and, she guessed, strength. Each group had its own wars, its own village mentality. She imagined the same wars taking place among the poor all over the world.[47]
This parallel is emphasised and re-emphasised throughout the book: the position of the asylum seeker is thereby redefined as a universal position of oppression and a solidarity is asserted between the ‘poor all over the world’. The injustice Ashvin suffers as he suffers his breakdown has no association with his location, and even the ethnic make-up of Forest Gate with its class-based hierarchies is a new form of the same oppression. We are reminded of Bhabha’s observation on the need for a minority discourse to reimagine both the new and the old country:
For Bhabha, multiculturalist thinking obscures ‘the hybrid cosmopolitanism of contemporary metropolitan life’, a hybridity which is constantly in process and transformation... He draws attention to the transformational powers of a cosmopolitan migrant culture, for not only do migrants reimagine their ‘homelands’, their places of ancestral origin, they also ‘impose their needs on their new earth, bringing their own coherence to the new-found land, imagining it afresh’. [48]

The migrant’s perspective has the power to shed light on hierarchical injustice both in Mogadishu and London, reimagining both in the light of an international hegemony of racial prejudice. It is this opening-up of injustice from localised to pluralised injustice that causes Ashvin such anger and pain. Like the narrator of Harare North, he is unable to adjust to the idea that he cannot escape mistreatment by travelling, and his processes for dealing with the extreme violence in London are borrowed from his homeland.
 “It’s a Somali gangster thing. Women use it as a protection against rape.”
I shook my head. “That’s some crazy Third World ghetto shit.”[49]
In fact, the word ‘ghetto’ can be read in opposition to ‘Third World’, as it is often used to describe poor urban areas within wealthy western cities, and several times in the novel to describe Forest Gate itself. James’ choice of words undermines the localism of both expressions, and reiterates Akinti’s point more subtly; the location may change but the people don’t. Ashvin has brought his hatred with him from Africa, leading to his rape of the Ethiopian, Nalma, in a symbolic revenge for his own rape by Ethiopian soldiers. ‘“Your country-men gave me a gift and now it is my birthday and I give it to you.”’[50]

Later when James and Meina are in Cornwall, Meina imagines Somalia in a more positive light: ‘If my country were peaceful this is how beautiful it could be. This looks like Mogadishu used to.’[51] This is swiftly followed by further comparisons with Somalia, again raised by Meina, when they arrive at their final destination in Brazil. ‘The temperature had swelled well over ninety, like in the African sun.’[52] Meina, who could live in peace neither in Mogadishu nor in London, is reminded of the beauty of Africa in ethnically-diverse, rural Brazil. And this is logical, because in the few brief tableaux that close the novel, Akinti sets up a beautiful rainbow-nation of love and redemption that fails to wholly convince as a plot resolution. The wise Romao sets James’ mind finally at ease:
“You would not be a black man if you were happy all the time in life. When there is drought you look for rain. Maybe you never find it but you do not stop looking.”[53]
And we leave the characters in an idyll that is more different from Forest Gate than Africa could ever be. Akinti has solved the problems of the violent, urban, Black experience by a simple relocation, but Forest Gate stays the same, and the reader is left with its troubling presentation, completely unresolved.

Mr Bloom’s narrative, after their arrival in Brazil, contributes to this anticlimactic and problematic conclusion. The narration has been led by young Black characters throughout; now, after he rescues James and Meina, the rich, white, secret service agent begins to speak for them also. And his narrative, while stylistically overlapping greatly with James and Meina’s voices, is an unreconstructed and clichéd account, riddled with racialised stereotype.
They are a strange breed, black men. Some arrogant and insensitive, some lawless, some too humble and some downright mean. Most seem to think that their harsh circumstances make them different from everybody else. [54]
Its inclusion is a strong reminder of the fact that James and Meina could not have escaped London without the help of this powerful white man, who also rescued Ashvin and Meina from Somalia. It can be argued that this is one of the weaknesses of the novel: not only James but also Peter Akinti are incapable of carrying out the ‘survival’ that brother 5 hopes for. With his silver-coloured Jaguar, his sexual attraction to Black women and his police contacts, Mr Bloom is an unlikely protector for two asylum seekers in Forest Gate, and his role as hardened service-man turned saviour of young black people is disappointing when read in terms of Akinti’s ideological aims, and unfulfilling when the novel is viewed as a social critique of Forest Gate.

3. Identity and voice

We now turn from a geographical viewpoint to an investigation of characterisation and identity. In this section we will see that both Forest Gate and Harare North use characterisation to explore the voices and the silence of African migrants in London. Both novels offer an implicit critique of the way in which British discourse on migrants and asylum seekers presents a generalised picture of victims or ‘scroungers’, and both use unusual focalisation techniques more or less successfully to create autonomous individuals in positions where migrants are usually unseen and homogenised.  

It is useful here to open with a comparison of the two novels with a ground-breaking novel by another author of Nigerian extraction, Diran Adebayo’s Some Kind of Black (1995). Unlike our two research subjects, the novel takes as its protagonist a young Englishman, Dele, who has to some extent achieved his parents’ dream of educational success, completing a degree at Oxford University. Like Akinti, Adebayo also calls this redemption through the system into question, and the novel explores the difficulties Dele experiences in navigating between three worlds: the social whirl of the university, the strict and deeply Christian London family home of his Nigerian parents, and the urban milieu of his Black London childhood friends, a world which will lead him into conflict with the police and introduce him to organised crime.

At the end of the book, Dele faces a choice as to which of these worlds will help him best overcome his problems: cheated by black philanthropic fronts for crime, the book finishes as he resolves the threat, armed with a knife and accompanied by his drug-dealing best friend. ‘It was the blade he took to clubs with dodgy clientele, especially in parts of East and South-East London. He had never had to use it.’[55] Despite this, Dele is better equipped than James to assert himself in every social sphere, yet this is due to a complex system of invented stories and class-based put-downs, and the ‘blade’ will be his most effective weapon in the end.

There is a code of honour present in Some Kind of Black that is in some ways easier for the reader to understand than the complicated relations between James, the police and the state. Dele never considers going to the police as the victim of fraud: like James he has been the victim of police brutality under stop-and-search measures, yet James is later taken under the wing of first Whittaker, then Bloom, a rescue by state representatives which sits uneasily with his political identity. In any case, Dele and James embody the difficulty described by Stuart Hall of finding a place for their ‘Englishness’ while maintaining connections with the Black experience in other countries, and expressing a Black identity unique to English society.
I suppose at the end of the day I want to say that some of us were born here, some of us are struggling to come to terms with our ambiguous, incomplete and subordinate experience of Englishness – at the same time as we connect ourselves to black histories elsewhere and yet also recognise the emptiness of national identities as such. None of us has a monopoly on black authenticity.[56]

For Meina, Ashvin and the narrator of Harare North, this sense of ‘Englishness’ is at a further remove, and the three occupy a different position of marginality perceived as subordinate to long-term British residents. Using Homi Bhabha’s Nation and Narration, focusing primarily on his idea of a ‘third space’ for the migrant, we see that this position of the recent arrival is in some ways more interesting as a reflection of British society from an enforced ‘outsider’ point of view. These are figures poised apparently halfway between where they come from and where they are going (although as we shall see, this is complicated within both novels), and their descriptions coincide with their contact with London. Minority discourse, as Bhabha has shown, can be revelatory about apparently ‘whole’ societies such as the nation-state, because of this transient connection.
It contests genealogies of ‘origin’ that lead to claims of cultural supremacy and historical priority. Minority discourse acknowledges the status of national culture - and the people - as a contentious, performative space of the perplexity of the living in the midst of the pedagogical representations of the fullness of life. [57]
So for the African migrants in the novels, London has the potential to be a new kind of space for their identities, corresponding neither to the country of origin nor the country of settlement.

Narrator, Shingi and minority discourse
Harare North is narrated in its entirety by an unnamed young Zimbabwean man, a former Green Bomber; his plan, from the offset, is to work illegally and return home as soon as possible. His first aim is to contact Shingi, his childhood friend who has been some time in London and hopes to stay there permanently, having sought asylum from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
He is one of them old friends, you know what it’s like with old friends, you know each other so well that sometimes you is not sure if your memories belong to him or vice versa.[58]
The narrator’s childhood friendship with Shingi is recounted in a series of flashbacks which complicate and undermine his own sense of self and the reliability of his memory. They became friends at school and grew up together, yet the narrator’s account focuses on Shingi’s weaknesses: in a fight with a girl at school, and in confrontation with his stepfather and stepbrother. Shingi disappears from the narrator’s life after he is recruited by the Green Bombers, and it is clear that the narrator’s loyalty to the force has put pressure on their friendship. In London, where Shingi has found precarious, badly paid work and a squalid home, the narrator relies on his old friendship to get him away from Paul’s unwilling charity, yet from the moment of their reunion the two characters will follow a joint degeneration into sickness, unemployment and madness; a decline which will lead both their characters to become mingled and simultaneously effaced.

It is Jenny who accuses Shingi of having developed DID, a split personality disorder. After months of living inside Shingi’s head, the reader can see that the narrator has symbolically become Shingi, at the same time as suffering a nervous breakdown, distinguishable through the increasingly erratic and illogical first-person narration: ‘the prepay electricity meter run out of credit and suddenly there is darkness inside Shingi’s head.’[59]

From the first entry of Dave and Jenny into their lives, it has become difficult to draw a line between Shingi, using heroin at home with his new British friends, and the narrator, erratically seeking work using Shingi’s documents. This merging of their two identities has been foreshadowed throughout the novel, yet the conclusions to be drawn from it are myriad and conflicting. Is Jenny’s cod-psychology useful or does it represent the inadequacy of white, middle-class educated liberalism to read the narrator’s identity in any useful or cogent way? Did Shingi ever exist or was he a projection of a side of the narrator who never joined the Green Bombers and wants to stay in London? Or are the two a metaphor for the inorexable eradication of the illegal immigrant as an individual and his inevitable transformation into a representative signifier of shared problems?

During the final denouement of the novel, the narrator dismantles Shingi’s life and packs it into a suitcase, which will fall open in the street, leading him to lose all his possessions. Shingi is apparently dying in hospital (according to the narrator, who cannot visit the hospital because of his fear of discovery by the state), and there is a disjuncture between the narrator’s sense of responsibility for this- sending money to Shingi’s relatives - and his need for anonymity and refuge for himself. The two characters have become so confused that the reader must decide him/herself what conclusions to draw from Shingi’s disappearance. The narrator uses Shingi’s ID and work permit throughout the novel, and the letters he writes in Shingi’s name reveal more than just loyalty to his friend: he has actually taken on all the parts of Shingi’s life which have a durable effect on the world around them. From an official point of view, it will henceforth be impossible to prove who is Shingi and who is the narrator, as even the photo on Shingi’s passport can be used by the narrator, who finally sees his face replaced by Shingi’s:
I visit that shop that have the mirror that make you look tall beautiful and rich... I put suitcase down, stand in front of the mirror. I nearly suffer skin failure from lot of gooseflesh: there in front of me, the original native flash on the mirror for one second.

The narrator’s depiction of events is constantly undermined by clashes with both the known reality of London and the much hazier idea the British reader has of life in contemporary Zimbabwe. In sacrifice of his ‘likeability’ and in contradiction of the mainstream image of a ‘just’ asylum claim, he is still ideologically committed to the Mugabe regime, which calls any simplistic generalisations of the motives of Zimbabwean asylum seekers into question. His cousin’s wife, Sekai, represents the opposing, assimilated migrant in London, and her views on his arrival in London and his political affiliations constitute the main debate in the novel on the subject of Zimbabwean politics.
When I remember that only some few days ago she have even say that President Mugabe is stubborn old donkey... I get out of bed, pack my bag, kick sausage dog out of the way and go down to garage to buy gallon of petrol for them.[60]
The novel mocks Paul and Sekai, trying to live like the English with their Dachshund, their weekend DIY and their extra-marital affairs. All of the Zimbabwean characters refuse easy categorisation as victims or as heroes; Tsitsi has suffered abuse as the domestic servant of her uncle yet now rents out her baby to benefits claimants; Aleck lies about his job to enhance his social status and tells the residents of his squat they must pay rent. Yet the humour and the humanity of their description redeem them despite the narrator’s scorn.

Finally, the other character who ‘follows’ the narrator from Zimbabwe to Brixton; Comrade Mhiripiri is a major influence on the narrator from the moment on his recruitment into the Green Bombers.
Me I know what I have to do when the boys come to take me in they van... I give my stall one kick and it fall over easy. That’s it! Me jump into the van as it speed off. I’m free. [61]
Thus begins a new life for the narrator of riding in the van with the other boys, drunk on ‘bookish falsehoods’ and ‘revolutionary songs’, seeking out ‘traitors’ and administering ‘forgiveness’. From London, we begin to see how the narrator has developed his politics, and the sense of redemption and release that he felt as a former convict and shoe-mender when he joined up. Such is the narrator’s confidence in his leader that when Mhiripiri starts to demand money to pay off the police, he believes him- while the reader, given only the narrator’s erratic and naive account to go by, is likely to see the whole business as suspicious from the very beginning. Thus the narrator’s very reason for migration is a swindle. He refuses to listen to anyone who warns him against Mhiripiri and sends his former sergeant letters bringing him up to date with his progress in London.

Throughout the novel, the idea of seeking asylum - or indeed changing location for any reason - is constantly questioned, never more so than when the narrator realises that the Master of Foxhounds, the imposing man who sits with ‘them laid-back liars, dog thieves in trenchcoats, pigeons, coarse runaway married men that have develop bad habits like spitting on pavement... all them funny types,’[62] on the benches outside the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, is in fact Comrade Mhiripiri himself. At the same time he receives a text message from a former fellow soldier, now in Johannesburg/Harare South, confirming what the reader has long suspected:
police not even interested in any of us because what they want is Cde M because he have humiliate them many times and Goromonzi police inspector have got scores to settle with him. And now people say he is part-time BBC in London[63]
Not only has Mhiripiri been forced to leave Zimbabwe for his own security, but he has taken on the lowest-status job for Zimbabweans in London- BBC (British Buttock Cleaner) or toilet attendant.

The moment in Brixton centre when the two recognise each other holds no relief for the narrator. He steels himself to attack Mhiripiri using the language of the Green Bombers, in a scene where words are used as weapons, playing on the semantic field of one-on-one combat. ‘Soon I hit him with the truth. Truth is like granite rock because if someone hit your head with it, your head feel sore.’[64]
‘Even today you still have milk coming out of your nose, young man. Zimbabwe was a state of mind, not a country.’ He laugh like maniac.
‘You want forgiveness or what?’
‘Forgiveness forgiveness,’ now people is starting to shout and the MFH has big alarm on his face.[65]
The language of the Green Bombers holds three meanings- ‘forgiveness’ in its original sense, as the euphemism for violence in Zimbabwe, and as an ironically antagonistic chant by onlookers who cannot understand the confrontation. Mhiripiri, however, shows a philosophical attitude towards Zimbabwe that the narrator, with his fierce yet confused loyalties and his determination to succeed, cannot feel. Mhiripiri has created a clear division between his life in Zimbabwe and his new life in London; the absence of this division is one of the principal aspects of the narrator’s character, and his downfall. The book constantly refuses to show its protagonist in any simplistic, stereotyped role. Yet the gradual obliteration of his personal identity is emblematic of the risks run by any undocumented worker or African asylum seeker in London- anonymous, forgotten and invisible, he is in some ways exactly the same as Shingi in the official accepted narrative of the big city.


We have seen the ways in which London is used in Harare North and Forest Gate to reveal and to question the position of the twenty-first century migrant in the world, and to unfold a range of alternative cities latent and not always directly observable by the reading audience, a political function of the novel which contributes greatly to the debate about migration and globalisation. The reader tends to have his/her own projection of London as a globally-shared imagined space, and so the superimposure of Akinti and Chikwava’s Londons has a heightened political impact through their demonstration of both invisible and unpleasant London.

The two authors employ a variety of means to simultaneously construct and undermine a division on the city into owned territories. Their characters, marginalised and silenced, are given voices which reflect not only the hierarchies and injustices of the city, but also its constant state of flux, the ‘hybridity, process and transformation’ of Bhabha’s minority discourse.[66]

However, the two books address this challenge differently: Akinti’s realist depiction of Forest Gate sets up a problem to be solved - and yet when it comes to it, Akinti shies away from offering any satisfactory solution, either fictional or in the context of his wider socio-political critique of racialised London society. Meanwhile the narrator of Harare North is memorable for his ability to believe two contradictory things simultaneously. This ‘double-think’ becomes a driving force behind the tension and action of the plot: the reader waits to be told the ‘actual truth’ and yet no clear answers are forthcoming. Shingi remains an unknown quantity, a projection of the narrator’s imagination with multiple manifestations - the junkie, Jacques Chirac, the ‘Original Native’. The novel is more of a distorted, mocking reflection of attitudes towards migrants than a straightforward realist text: it subverts readers’ expectations using the narrator’s unexpected, troubling perspective.
London figures in different ways in the two novels: as a link between invisible migrants and the settled population, as both a barrier and an aid to social mobility and economic success, as a metaphor for every element of migration, as the ‘Heart of Empire’ and the modern incarnation of globalised problems and issues. In a marked shift from earlier texts, both the novels concentrate on the unique individual rather than the common-ground of ethnic community, and combine a focus on the positive and negative aspects of humanity with the unique viewpoint described by C.L.R James as ‘men who know the language and can take part in the civilisation, but are not part of it, who are outsiders and looking at it from the outside’.[67]

Furthermore, rather than celebrating the city, the novels use aspects of identity and voice to evoke what Sukhdev Sandhu has called ‘Improper London’, a colourful, clashing combination of marginal perspectives and subversive accounts of the city.
 ‘Improper’ London, then, is as much a voice as a subject matter: it’s colloquial, strutting and street-sharp, verging on the vicious, and heavily influenced by those cultural forms which also flex their fire, savvy and toughness. [68]
The way in which characters travel and settle in the two novels reflects the complexity and the variety of twenty-first-century migration, and refuses a simple reduction of migration to an A-to-B, bad-to-good process.
Movement, dislocation and dispersal are not the only, or even the dominant, experiences or strategies of diasporas. To be part of a diaspora community you do not have to have travelled somewhere.[69] 
As such, the processes of migration, settlement and departure, even of failure, flag up the multiplicity of voices unheard behind the stories of Meina, James, and the narrator. Simultaneously, the idea of post-globalisation diaspora evokes a whole world of possibility, enclosed in these two novels by the M25, but reflected in details such as the title of Harare North or the references to Somalia in Cornwall. The novels cannot give any simple answers to the problems faced by migrants to London. Thus we finish by contending that the role of a novel is not to provide answers but to pose questions, and these two books have certainly updated the questions they pose, to reflect the new challenges of twenty-first century migration.

Adebayo, Diran, Some Kind of Black (London: Abacus, 2004)
Akinti, James, Forest Gate (New York: Free Press for Simon and Shuster, 2010)
Appadurai, Arjun and Morley, David, “Decoding Diaspora and Disjuncture” (dialogue) in New Formations #73, Reading After Empire (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2011)
Appiah, Kwame Anthony, “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?” in African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007)
Aston-Mansfield, “Newham: Key Statistics”, document accessed online at, accessed 12.56, 12.09.2012
Attridge, Derek, “Afterword: Responsible Reading and Cultural Distance” in New Formations #73, Reading After Empire (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2011)
Baldwin, James, Nobody Knows My Name (London: Penguin, 1994)
Benwell, Bethan, Procter, James and Robinson, Gemma, “Not Reading Brick Lane” in New Formations #73, Reading After Empire (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2011)
Bhabha, Homi, “DissemiNation: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation” in Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990)
Bhabha, Homi, “Introduction: Narrating the Nation” in Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990)
Bhabha, Homi, “Re-Inventing Britain: A Manifesto” in British Studies Now (Re-Inventing Britain: Identity, Transnationalism, and the Arts) #9(April 1997)
C.L.R James, Beyond a Boundary, (London: Yellow Jersey, 2005)
Calvino, Italo, Invisible Cities (London: Vintage Classics, 1997)
Chikwava, Brian, Harare North (London: Vintage Books, 2010)
Gentleman, Amelia, “The asylum seekers who survive on £10 per week”, first published on p6 of the G2 section of the Guardian on Wednesday 16 June 2010, published on at 07.59 BST on Wednesday 16 June 2010, and last modified at 17.40 BST on Thursday 17 June 2010. Accessed at on 18/08/2012 at 19.13.
Hall, Stuart, “New Ethnicities” in Writing Black Britain, 1948- 1998 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000)
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Lamming, George, The Pleasures of Exile (Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1992)
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Sesay, Kadija (ed.) Write Black, Write British (Hertford: Hansib, 2005)
Smith, Andrew, “C.L.R. James, Vanity Fair And The Audience” in New Formations #73, Reading After Empire (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2011)
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[1] C.L.R James, Beyond a Boundary, (London: Yellow Jersey, 2005) p. xxi
[2] Innes, C.L. A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain, 1700- 2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) p. 167
[3] Procter, James, Dwelling Places: Postwar black British Writing (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003) p. 14
[4] Procter, p. 4
[5] Procter, Dwelling Places, p. 12
[6] Procter, Dwelling Places, p. 15
[7] Selvon, Sam, The Lonely Londoners, (London: Penguin, 2006) p. 2
[8] Selvon, Sam, p. 7
[9] Chikwava, Brian, Harare North, (London: Vintage Books, 2010) p. 5
[10] Chikwava, Brian, p. 6
[11] Hall, Stuart, “New Ethnicities” in Writing Black Britain, 1948- 1998 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000) p. 269
[12] Selvon, Sam, The Lonely Londoners, p. 2
[13] Akinti, Peter, Forest Gate, (New York: Free Press for Simon and Shuster, 2010) p. 97
[14] Selvon, Sam, The Lonely Londoners, p. 92
[15] Akinti, Peter, p. 34
[16] I use these now outdated expressions, first and third world, deliberately- not only have they remained current in popular discourse and current speech, but they reveal a conceptual hierarchy of territory that exists in our imaginations but is, as we shall see, firmly rejected by both authors.
[17] In Innes, p. 242
[18] ibid.
[19] Akinti, p. 27
[21] Akinti, p. 28
[22] ibid.
[23] Chikwava, p. 25
[24] Chikwava, p. 50
[25] Akinti, p. 58
[26] Chikwava, p. 225
[27] Akinti, p. 104
[28] Akinti, p. 75
[29] Innes, p. 234
[30] Chikwava, p. 27
[31] Glass in Procter, p. 21
[32] Chikwava, p. 29
[33] “The Newham Household Survey 2009 showed 38,800 households in unsuitable housing. During 2009-10, Newham had over 36,000 households on the Housing Register (applying for a place in social housing) and around 3,500 households in temporary accommodation.” The likelihood of two school-age Somali teenagers with no full-time carer moving immediately into a council house is even lower than in another London borough, and we have to assume it is the result of Mr Bloom’s government contacts- in which case, why Newham? Source:
[34] Akinti, p. 25
[35] Akinti, p. 25
[36] Lamming, The Emigrants, (London: Allison and Busby Limited, 1980) p. 231 (cited in Procter)
[37] Akinti, p. 90
[38] Akinti, p. 138
[39] Akinti, p. 3
[40] This image is also used for the cover art on both the UK and US editions
[41] Akinti, p. 71
[43] Akinti, p. 109
[44] Akinti, p. 101
[45] Akinti, p. 74
[46] Akinti, p. 173
[47] Akinti, p. 90
[48] Innes, p. 242
[49] Akinti, p. 114
[50] Akinti, p. 118
[51] Akinti, p. 146
[52] Akinti, p. 184
[53] Akinti, p. 183
[54] Akinti, p. 179
[55] Adebayo, Diran, Some Kind of Black (London: Abacus, 2004) p. 225
[56] Paul Gilroy ‘Nothing but sweat inside my hand: diaspora aesthetics and black arts in Britain’, in Black Film/ British Cinema, ICA Document 7 (Cited by James Procter, Black British Writing) p. 1
[57] Bhabha, Homi, “DissemiNation: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation” in Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990) p. 307
[58] Chikwava, p. 9
[59] Chikwava, p. 217
[60] Chikwava, p. 41
[61] Chikwava, p. 17
[62] Chikwava, p. 127
[63] Chikwava, p. 178
[64] Chikwava, p. 183
[65] Chikwava, p. 183
[66] Bhabha, cited in Innes, p. 242
[67] Innes, C.L., A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain, 1700- 2000 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002) p. 201
[68] Sandhu, Sukhdev, London Calling, (London: Harper Collins, 2004) p. 386
[69] Procter, James, Dwelling Places, p. 14

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