Stefani's Reviews > Pigeon English

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
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Mar 22, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: british, depressing, crime

I might have enjoyed this book a bit more had I not felt like I was paging through my 5th grade diary the entire time. The narrator—an 11-year-old Ghanian immigrant named Harrison—isn't what you'd call precocious exactly, but he's sweet and uncorrupted despite the urban blight surrounding him. While the other boys in the council houses are busy sticking each other with sharp objects and threatening each other with violence, Harrison is deeply concerned about pigeons, stray animals and his father and sister back in Ghana. When one of his classmates gets stabbed in front of a chicken restaurant, rather than being frightened, he attempts to solve the murder with his friends, even though it soon becomes painfully obvious who the culprit is.

Also, I don't mind when books are filled with the vernacular of a certain culture, I found myself looking up so many words online that it was difficult to get back into the flow of the story. Eventually I located a Ghana-English dictionary online which was a handy reference point for figuring out that "blood" actually meant strength in the context of the story and "bo-styles" meant stylish, although I suppose that one was fairly self explanatory. However, toto wasn't an easy guess (look it up if you don't believe me).

So...the story is sad in a way because it's illustrative of the difficulties both of being poor and a new immigrant. Despite Harrison's wide eyed enthusiasm for his school and friends, the reader is painfully aware that he and his family must fight every day to survive in a neighborhood with needles underfoot, junkies and puddles of piss in the stairwell and gangs roaming the streets.

As someone who reads the newspapers fairly regularly, this story didn't seem too unlikely. The ending, although tragic, is more common than one imagines.
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11/02/2016 marked as: read

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