Surprising picture of migration, from the view of a eleven year old black boy.
Harrison - say Harri - Opoku is an eleven year old boy from Ghana, who came to England with his mother and older sister Lydia. He has to adjust in a Western society, where all is new to him. They live in a huge tower in a poor part of London. Sometimes he talks on the phone to his father, a carpenter, and his sweet little sister Agnes. He thinks of himself as the man in the house, goes to school in Year 7 and wanders around with his peers. He doesn’t like girls that much, but Poppy is a different story .
Life is tough in England. It is cold in March when the story, that ends at the summerholidays, starts. Harri doesn’t see his mother often, because she works in a hospital and he doesn’t get along well with his sister Lydia. A gang intimidates him and another boy tries to sell stolen goods to him. Niquita, the friend of his sisters wants to teach him how to use his tongue during kissing, but he hates that and is glad that he doesn’t have sex with Poppy.
Harri gets the help of a clever pigeon, who is also there when he sleeps and regularly speaks to him in the book. ‘What your problem is, you all want to be the sea,’ says the pigeon once, speaking about them all. ‘But you’re not the sea, you’re just a raindrop. One of an endless number. If only you’d accept it, things would be so much easier.’
In the beginning Harri sees the blood of a dead boy who got stabbed outside a chickenfood restaurant. With his friend Dean, who knows a lot because he has seen the shows on the telly, Harri investigates the murder. They start searching for the knife, the dead boy got killed with, near the rubbish pipe in the river and use binoculars to check out suspicious behaviour, but they go further. They try to catch fingerprints, find rings of DNA in all kinds of colours and catch the spirit of the dead boy with a camera.
Harri is exploring his new world with all his heart. The reader is usually unprepared for the experiences that he will go through. We follow Harri and see him thinking a lot, puzzling about aunt Sonia who burnt her fingers to get the print off and stepping back and forth between about his belief in an alligator tooth and Christian religion. He is also enjoying himself a lot and usually looks around with wonder, for instance at a lady with a moustache in the tube. He likes running on his trainers and farting as a woodpecker. Harri has lots of fantasy. The wind in the undergound when the train comes in reminds him of a big fart. He is naive but smart and inventive. He puts Adidas stripes on his trainers and when on his sisters birthday he takes her outside to a new ramp and they make prints of their feet in the wet cement. The stories are told with associations and regularly old facts reappear, so they are interconnected.
One of the new things is the language. ‘In England, there’s a hell of different words for everything. It’s for if you forget one, there’s always another one left over. It’s very helpful. Gay and dumb and lame mean all the same. Piss and slash and tinkle mean all the same (the same as greet the chief).’
Haari speaks a simple language of course, but the tone is vivid and brings Harri nearby. Spoken sentences start as in old childrenbooks with the person how speaks. ‘Me: “…”
Harri has his own vocabulary like ‘Asweh’, which sounds like a sneeze. He uses - for me - unfamliar words as hutious and red-eyes and probably uses slang in: pissheads, dey touch, it was very vexing, donkey hours. He writes words in his own way like idey in stead of idea and baccy instead of tobacco. Sometimes he uses drawings to explain what he means, like about scars. Harri explains images like ‘a piece of a cake’. The explanation of a fruitmachine shows his delicate kind of humour.
The tone of voice of this real life survival story reminded me of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. Later on I saw that Roddy Doyles book is recommended for further reading. In a Q & A with the author Kelman says that that he is writing at the moment about an Indian man who is a serial world record breaker in bizarre and wonderful feats of physical endurance and strength. I cannot wait to read about him. Kelman knows how to get into another person and bring him alive.