LitFest Goes Wild
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Zaiba Malik & Michele Hanson
September 29, 2012 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm£8.00
Prejudice, hypocrisy and family life through childhood eyes but set within two different cultures, eras and locations.
Michele Hanson is one of the UK’s wittiest and most popular columnists and was for 25 years a teacher in inner London. Her book Living with Mother won the MIND book of the year in 2006.
What the Grown-ups Were Doing is a hilarious chronicle of Jewish family life in Fifties Metroland – Ruislip to be precise – where a shop front of respectability disguises anxieties and antics. An evocative memoir of a childhood and coming of age in a Britain now long gone; post-war austerity into the fads and fashions of ‘you’ve never had it so good’ .
To contrast, Zaiba Malik takes us into 70s and 80s Bradford and the alienation and racism experienced by a child torn between two identities: ‘Muslim’ and ‘British’. We Are A Muslim Please was serialised on Radio 4’s Book of the Week. The author is a journalist born in Leeds in 1969, but the book opens with her imprisoned in Bangladesh accused of filming illegally.
This event is chaired by Bidisha, journalist and author. Her fourth book is Beyond The Wall: Writing a Path through Palestine.
Zaiba Malik: We Are A Muslim Please
For Zaiba Malik, growing up in Bradford in the ‘70s and ‘80s certainly has its moments – staying up all night during Ramadan with her father; watching mad Mr Aziz searching for his goat during Eid; dancing along to Top of the Pops (so long as no-one’s watching). And, of course, there’s her mother – whether she’s writing another ingratiating letter to the Queen or repeatedly referring to Tom Jones as ‘Thumb Jone’. But Zaiba’s story is also one of anxiety and seemingly irreconcilable opposites. Growing up she is constantly torn between two identities: ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’. Alienated at school and confused at home, the racism she encounters as a child mirrors the horrors she experiences at the hands of Bangladeshi interrogators as a journalist years later. Five years after the 7/7 attacks galvanized debates about Muslim-British identity, We Are a Muslim, Please is a stirring and enchanting memoir. We see, through Zaiba’s childhood eyes, the poignancy of growing up in a world whose prejudices, contradictions and ambiguities are at once distressing and utterly captivating.
Michele Hanson: What the Grown-ups Were Doing
Michele Hanson grew up an ‘oddball tomboy disappointment’ in a Jewish family in Ruislip in the 1950s – a suburban Metroland idyll of neat lawns, bridge parties and Martini socials. Yet this shopfront of respectability masked a multitude of anxieties and salacious goings-on. Was Shirley’s mother really having an affair with the man from the carpet shop? Did chatterbox Dora Colborne harbour unspeakable desires for Michele’s sulky dad? Whose Battenburg cake was the best? An atmosphere of intense rivalry prevails, with Michele’s mum suspicious of her non-Jewish neighbour’s personal habits, and Michele very wary of children’s games like ‘Doctors and Nurses’ that might bring bottoms into the equation. And with glamorous, scheming Auntie Celia swanning around in silk dresses demanding attention, Michele has a lot to contend with. Only the annual holidays to the south of France relieve the tension.
This wonderfully evocative memoir charts Michele’s childhood and coming of age in a Britain that was emerging from post-war austerity into the days of ‘you’ve never had it so good’. It is a characterful and affectionate look at a way of British life long since disappeared but one for which we continue to hold huge affection.