The best part of this novel is the ending. That’s not a flippant comment to strike the author and his work down, it’s a genuine sentiment meant for a book that left me thinking about it the rest of the night. In fact I was left thinking about Imtiaz and his world in Sheffield for days; such is the power within his story.
Imtiaz is a young Pakistani man who lives a suburban British life with his Wife and Daughter. He moves through his existence with an edge of shame for his ethnic background and towards his Abba for his “cowardice” at their oppression and his Ammi with her polite life hidden behind her burkha. When Imtiaz’s Father dies and he flies out to Pakistan for the burial, his shame becomes pride and his suburban life becomes one of paranoia as he takes a vow to become Martyr for Jihad and plans to go back to Sheffield as a suicide bomber.
What Sunjeev Sahota creates here isn’t a satirical look at culture and the newspapers pointed finger at anyone with brown skin, his tale is dark and disturbing. While he crafts a beautiful, almost poetic, landscape of Pakistan and the Muslim way of life, he balances it very well with the paranoia and thoughts of Imtiaz.
The book is written as a confessional diary in which Imtiaz explains his life with his partner, his upbringing and the fateful trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s a hard book to read in places, not only because of the subject matter, but because the author insists on writing with a Sheffield dialect. While at first reading the text fits the part, it soon becomes stagnant as you realise that it’s quite unlikely that Imtiaz would have written exactly how he speaks. It also doesn’t gel when in one sentence we’re given an account with a Northern twang and in the next, beautiful prose.
But that’s merely a stumbling block in an otherwise terrific page-turner. Due to its writing style, the book is so easy to read it can be polished off in a day. And it holds the ability to keep you wanting to know what happens next. It’s a morbid and lonely world that Sahota creates, it’s the literary equivalent of staring at a car accident, you can’t help it, and it’s just human to look.
What Sahota does very well is creates a gateway into this ordinary world for you to explore. It’s a world full of controversy and one that quickly becomes conflicting for the reader. You find yourself sympathising with Imtiaz and his thoughts as they are written in front of you, but there’s always that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that he is a terrorist. Of course when certain things are mentioned about how his training plays out, that sympathy may fall away leaving behind a raw emotion that was crafted wonderfully without you even noticing.
The most praise must be heaped on the author for his handling of the material. Sunjeev writes delicately enough as to not anger the reader, only to disturb them. When writing about Imtiaz watching his friend blow himself up in a crowded street in Afghanistan, the author’s words flow almost lyrically and show no morbid connotations, until the aftermath. Such is how Imtiaz would see it.
Ours Are The Streets is a wonderful book about Britain and the constant thoughts of the Middle East. It weaves brilliantly towards a dénouement that literally had me pause and contemplate humanity and human emotion. It never glamorises terrorism and its constant threat, if anything it shows something all the more sinister. Above all it shows human fragility and anyone who reads it will be left thinking about it for days after.