Book Review: This is London by Ben Judah (published by Picador)
I saw Ben Judah talk about his book This is London at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016 and immediately went out and purchased it. This is London is narrative non-fiction written by foreign correspondent Ben Judah who turns his attention to the lives of Londoners, but not the city dwellers who we all think of when we think of the capital, but to the immigrants, both legal and illegal. This is a tale of the Russian oligarchs, the Arab royalty, the Afghans, Nigerians, Poles, Romanians, Lithuanians and Filipinas. Not a cockney in sight.
To tease out the stories, he not only conducts interviews, he also spends time sleeping rough and streetwalking, living in a crowded Romanian doss house, and visiting an African witch-doctor. He narrates these stories using the language of the people telling them and his descriptions of the world around him, the London that people rarely see, or rarely choose to see, are detailed, heart breaking and often poetic.
There are many tales included, such as Romanian tramps being forced to beg for gangs; the Polish registrar who has wed thousands of couples including all the mixed ones (“Polish nannies with Portuguese DJs. Lithuanian cleaners with Romanian builders. Ghanaian pickers with Colombian scrubbers.”) and can spot the fakers; the immigrants who hang around outside Wickes hoping to get a cash in hand job for the day; the Poles who think that white working class Brits on benefits are “lazy pigs”; the Filipina maids who are treated terribly by their mostly Arab masters and mistresses but relax by cooking cakes for each other in their spare time; the Grenadian gangster; the bored, rich Egyptian and her “always stoned” Arab Princess friend; as well as the rich Nigerians living in Belgravia. And so many more.
There are also several startling observations, such as:
“London can’t admit it is addicted to skunk, because London can’t admit it is addicted to coke. This is a city that can’t own up that so much cocaine gets snorted at the weekends that the water authorities notice its presence spiking in the sewers on Tuesday afternoon. This is a city that pretends this £10 billion industry does not exist: by leaving its on-the-go distribution to the people it gives the least of a shit about: teenage boys - especially black teenage boys.”
“In 2005 and 2006 the police conducted 802 skunk raids in London and found over two-thirds run by Vietnamese gangs.”
“There are more people in London with little to no English than live in Newcastle.”
In Hammersmith and City there is a “40 per cent child-poverty rate”.
Overall, I really enjoyed this. I learnt something new, lots of new things in fact, and it gave me a greater understanding of the dynamics and shifting of London and all those who live in it.
My rating: 4/5
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