Review – In Our Mad And Furious City, by Guy Gunaratne
This is a truly wonderful book, I really urge you to read it. The writing is beautiful, portraying the violence and love of lives pulled into awkward, sometimes impossible shapes by a mad and furious city that seems to demand all and offer little in return. The story is compelling; it is a story of racism and tenacious survival, of dignity and friendship, of belonging and of finding a place. And of losing everything.
“It was on radio and television, an endless loop. He called himself the hand of Allah, but to us he looked as if he had just rolled out the same school gates as us. He had the same trainers we wore. Spoke the same road slang we used. The blood was not what shocked us. For us it was his face like a mirror, reflecting our own confused and frightened hearts.”
In Our Mad and Furious City takes place over two days in the febrile violence of London, stirred up by summer and the murder of a British soldier by a young muslim extremist. The central characters, always aware of their insecure grip on a city that refuses to make their way a smooth one, are compelled by events to once more examine their place in it and their path out.
“For those of us who had an elsewhere in our blood, some foreign origin, we had richer colours and ancient callings to hear. fight with, more likely, and fight for, a push-pull of ancestry and meaning.”
The five central characters live on the same estate. They are connected by family ties and friendship. Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf are school friends, a bond maintained in their games of football in the centre of the estate. They have different pressures to deal with and different strategies. There is a great deal of tenderness portrayed in the connections between them. I did not want to leave them when the book reached its moving, and as the jacket say, devastating finale.
Violence dominates the story and yet, as recognised by Nelson as he looks back over his time as a young man newly arrived in a racist, unwelcoming London, love is what counts:
“But then again, I think about cowardice and what it mean for a old man like I. All these years alive despite the ugly current. Facing down, time and time again. Not allowing the city to seize my mind the way it done others. And now I know. I know that on the night of the riot, when the fury blind the way, I ran not for cowardice but for love. And doing anything for love in a city that deny it, is a rebellion.”
Coincidentally, on the day I finished reading In Our Mad and Furious City I saw on Twitter this clip from the endlessly impressive Colin Kaepernick, the American footballer who began kneeling for the American anthem in protest at the systematically racist and unpunished deaths of black Americans at the hands of the police. He has been, of course, threatened and reviled. But this speech came during an award from Amnesty for his determined humanitarian work.
“We protest because we love ourselves and we love our people. I have realised that our love, that sometimes manifests itself as black rage is a beautiful form of defiance against a system that seeks to suppress our humanity, a system that wants us to hate ourselves. But I remind you, it is love that is at the root of our resistance.”
I was struck, and moved, by the coincidental connection between these two expressions of the same profound and beautiful idea.
One of my favourite books of all time is Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman for its ability to express the glorious, terrible extremes of human life. Like In Our Mad and Furious City it is a book that lays open the human heart in all of its wondrous, ferocious and mundane beauty, all its pain and longing.
I shed tears at the end of this book, but hope is what it gave me. And admiration, for the dignity and soul-rich survival of the characters, for the pure, determined vision of Selvon, for the groping and poetic heart of Ardan and for the load-bearing love of Yusuf. London, though mad and furious, is blessed too by such rich and generous lives.