Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Book Review | BRIT(ish)

When I tell you there has been something of a publishing revolution this year when it comes to Black British literature I really mean it. And given that it's Black History Month, I just could not possibly allow October to quietly pass without drumming up some noise about the one book which perfectly evaluates what it means to be black and British.

BRIT(ish) by Afua Hirsch is one of those books that have joined the outpouring of books that are challenging our attitude to race in Britain.

Who is Afua Hirsch?
"I cannot pronounce my name...Four letters, two syllables...Thirty-five years into bearing this name, I have failed to master it.."

Afua's contention with her identity begins with the one thing that everyone should be most at ease with. Her name. And that unfurls an uneasy relationship with her status as a half Ghanaian, half German Jewish woman living in the UK.

 Although I've been casually aware of Afua Hirsch, mainly due to her Ghanaian first name  (and the awkward way I had always heard it been pronounced) I can't say I have known much about her. In fact, the first time I heard her speak was when she was invited as a panelist into BBC's Question Time early this year (or was it last year?)
From reading BRIT(ish), I discovered she grew up in a rich, leafy area of South London (not my side of South, but the 'nice' side) attended private school until she graduated from sixth-form, then followed a predestined path to Oxford Univesity, where she studied law.  She's a journalist, a mother and a wife who still lives in the UK. For me, she's the poster girl of Britishness but even for someone who has passed through the finest British institutions, Afua is still not exempt from the very British, polite and subtle discrimination that comes with being "other".

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British or BRIT(ish)?
In her book, Afua documents the lengths she went to feel like she belonged. At school age, having a Ghanian mother, and a set of Ghanaian parents automatically revealed the subtle differences that would mark her out from the rest of her friends. Whilst they described spending weekends in their homes eating roast dinners, she spent hers in her grandmother's house which smelt of jollof rice and fried fish, speaking Twi, and greeting a stream of aunties. Even at that tender age, Afua understood that her world was one her white counterparts may not understand. 

As an adult, her search for identity led her to very interesting experiences both in the UK and West Africa. But even in a world where she was surrounded by black people and ate African food, did she find that thing she's looking for? Total and full belonging? 

Afua explores Black Britishness and Britishness as a whole through the prism of her own experiences as a mixed race woman. There are also some really interesting case studies from Britain's historic and recent past, which are solidified by figures and statistics. I found that my favourite parts of the book were where she tells her family's history and described stories from her relationship with her partner, Sam.

BRIT(ish) is a book with very heavy content, but personal stories and photos, quotes from her favourite speakers, as well as the 'playlist' at the end, which includes songs from Jill Scott, Nas and Bob Marley, and which Afua describes as 'a kind of soundtrack to [her] personal sense of identity' adds the right amount warmth. What I wouldn't give to sit in a café somewhere in London with Afua, discussing identity politics, music and Ghanaian food!

To be honest, I don't have a single piece of criticism for this book. Afua is a wonderful writer. Her way with words is so magical. I am so glad that I got to know more about her through her writing. As a British woman of Ghanaian descent, I identified with some of what she had to say. However, I also learned so much from her unique experiences.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Go and get your copy now! Let me know if you will be reading it this winter.

322 pages
RRP: £16.99
Published by: Penguin Random House

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1 comment

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