I was first introduced to Nikesh Shukla through his fantastic work with ‘The Good Immigrant’, a collection of essays from fifteen British black, Asian or minority ethnic writers. Shukla brought this work together after a crowd funding campaign that quickly gathered momentum. It is a truly impressive book that I believe is essential reading for all.
Now writing weekly columns for The Guardian that are thoroughly enjoyable, he is a writer who’s work I will now always investigate, and he didn’t leave me hanging long as just this week there has been the publication of his new novel ‘The One Who Wrote Destiny’.
This is a novel that features several narrators, jumping from voice to voice just as we jump from one country to another. These stories all link to one central whole, the family of Mukesh. The book opens during his younger years, having just arrived in the UK from Kenya, then moving forward 30 or so years in the future as we hear from each of his children and others who are encountered along the way.
The story of this family is an interesting one, where there is an emotional distance between all – caused by events in the past not easily healed, yet there still seemed to me to be love there too. Complex family relations reflect complex identity problems. Shukla again touches on the notion of being a ‘good immigrant’. When Mukesh arrives in England he quickly learns not all want to offer a hospitable welcome, the best way to get by is to be quiet, live life as the ‘good immigrant’, following the narrow idea of a what makes an acceptable resident of the UK if they were not born here. He finds himself confused and shocked by his children who often go against this, his daughter, Neha, being loud in a pub, not even considering implications this will have, his comedian son, Raks, standing on stage examining and laughing at what it is to be ‘other’.
These now grown children have worries of their own however, with health problems that dog the family appearing with what seems alarming predictability, and a whole new set of questions to be looked at on discussing race and identity in the public sphere. The very visible, violent racism their father experienced now changed to daily ”micro-aggressions’ they endure. As you read their story you wonder if they will find the answers and acceptance they are looking for, and if old ghosts can be laid to rest.
Other than the authors work I don’t know a huge amount about him, but moments of this story felt very autobiographical to me, even if it wasn’t the narrative arc that matches his own experiences it felt like the emotion and questioning over issues like identity were such an authentic voice, issues that have been thought over for days, months and years. Do we have to tap into the past to find our future or do we forge ahead and determine our own path?
As a reader I loved this book for absorbing me into a story and introducing me to multifaceted characters who challenge me, as a person with no experience of immigration and the way this presents a whole new layer of life to navigate I am grateful to Shukla for helping to push my understanding a little further, knowing no two peoples experience is the same but that the journey is never an easy one.
No matter what you think of destiny make sure it’s in your future to get a copy of this book!
The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla £14.99 (Atlantic Books)
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