For his debut novel, Marriage Material, Sathnam Sanghera has chosen an unusual looking glass through which to analyse the world: a newsagent’s. Inconspicuous though it may sound, the fictional Bains stores provides a fascinating insight into racial politics and Sikh culture, all set in Sanghera’s home town of Wolverhampton.
The novel charts the trials and tribulations of three very different generations of the same Sikh family. Based loosely on Arnold Bennett’s classic novel The Old Wives’ Tale, Sanghera interweaves the lives of two sisters, Surinder and Kamaljit Bains, with that of their descendant, Arjan: all three struggle as they experience coming of age in times of social and political upheaval.
Sanghera has certainly been ambitious with his first novel, tackling issues of race, youth, love and responsi- bility in an unconventional setting which provides an authentic glimpse of what it is like to live on the front-line of ‘Broken Britain’. In addition to this, he prompts us to consider our own views of our society. Have we become blind to the casual racism that litters our streets? Arjan’s account of discovering the words ‘TALEBAN PEEDO’ graffitied on the front of the shop bears an uncomfortably similar resemblance to some of the phrases spray-painted on the walls and billboards of Leeds.
This is not to say that it is not entertaining. Sanghera’s style is both witty and poignant in equal measure, with Arjan acting as an honest and engaging narrator who is light-hearted and yet thought provoking at the same time.
Sanghera delivers an absorbing read which succeeds in captivating and amusing its audience at the same time as making them aware of the cultural complexities that form the foundations of our society. With a TV adaptation in the works, jump on the bandwagon now.