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Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock’n’Roll
by Sarfraz Manzoor
269pp, Bloomsbury, £12.99
There is nothing unfamiliar about the lives of second-generation British immigrants. The tension between traditional and liberal values and the disconnection between first- and second-generation immigrants has been well documented; most notably in Hanif Kureishi’s books The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album, as well as Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer prize-winning short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. There is a timeless reality to diaspora, a sense of soul-searching that is, somehow, relevant to us all. However, since 7/7 there seems to be a greater urgency to comprehend the particular challenges for British Muslims, and the conflicts they face between traditional and western lifestyles. In this aptly-timed memoir, it is Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics that provide a route into that territory.
Sarfraz Manzoor arrived in Britain, aged three, in 1974 with his mother, brother and sister, to join his father in Bury Park, Luton, and it soon becomes clear that his struggle to balance being both a British and Pakistani Muslim was going to dominate his life. His father worked on the production line at Vauxhall along with the many other Asian immigrants who believed in hard work accompanied by strict traditional family values. Ironically, his father’s aspiration to move to a white neighbourhood – for the educational betterment of his children – plays a significant role in shaping Manzoor’s views on how to deal with life as a British Muslim. And, as so often, it is Springsteen who finds the words he needs: “Papa, now I know the things you wanted that you could not say, but won’t you just say goodbye, it’s independence day, I swear I never meant to take those things away.” The lyrics to “Independence Day” express the teenager’s yearning for progress and freedom. His subdued sense of rebellion appears, at this time, to spring from witnessing the pressures of arranged marriages on his elder sister Navela and brother Sohail.
Manzoor’s introduction to Springsteen’s music, courtesy of his Sikh friend Amolak, is the most endearing part of this book. Their obsessive fan behaviour is epitomised wonderfully in an incident when Manzoor, now working for Channel 4 and reporting on a court case involving Springsteen, ends up chatting to his idol for 20 minutes during a break in proceedings. Amolak’s envious reaction on hearing about the encounter illustrates both their competitiveness and their deeply valued bond of lifelong friendship.
However, the pressure to conform to his father’s expectations is a constant theme early in the book, and it is with a huge sigh of relief that we finally witness Manzoor indulging in a period of true rebellion after his graduation. But his father’s untimely death, when he is just about to get his first journalistic work published, prompts a poignant realisation of the deep commitment his father had to his family.
The looming prospect of an arranged marriage again sends Manzoor scurrying off to Bruce for guidance: “My ideal girl would be someone to whom I could play ‘Born to Run’.” And when the events of 9/11 and 7/7 intrude, we are reminded about the restrictive and ritualistic way in which he had been brought up as a Muslim. Though it seems strange, we find ourselves understanding how he could have come to feel that “Bruce Springsteen gave me more persuasive answers than Islam”.
Greetings from Bury Park takes time to address the economic issues that dominate the lives of immigrants, but it is the father’s obliviousness to the complexity of his son’s emotional life that gives this affectionate memoir its substance. The bizarre but compelling idea that Manzoor, feeling neither British nor Pakistani, and lacking Pakistani role models, finds some sort of solace in the American, working-class, sociopolitical lyrics of the Boss provides an intriguing backdrop to his life. Thankfully, he avoids travelling too far down the Nick Hornby road of setting a musical soundtrack to his past. Instead, he goes off at his own tangent, showing an almost disciple-like reverence for the lyrics of one artist, and taking us on an enticing journey of emotional anxiety through life’s challenges.
Interestingly, though, given Manzoor’s obsession with music, we are left wondering what sort of effect university life – and in particular the hedonistic 1990s “Madchester” scene – had on shaping his outlook on the world (perhaps, because he doesn’t drink, very little). Also, a passing reference to his passion for the Qawwali Sufi music of the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is left frustratingly unexplored.
Ultimately, Manzoor is a true Springsteen devotee, and unashamedly a proud one. You may not share its perspective on the Boss, but Greetings from Bury Park vibrantly displays a modest and unpretentious sense of optimism, and offers the hope that by connecting with our own choices in music we can transcend cultural and generational differences to reach personal freedom without denying our need to belong.
· Diamond Duggal is a record producer, DJ and leader of the alternative bhangra band Swami
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Review: Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock’n’Roll by Sarfraz Manzoor | Books