JUBILEE by Shelley Harris

JUBILEE by Shelley Harris

Here, in one of Britain's colonial outposts, generally speaking the Queen is a popular figure head. But because she is so far away, and so remote, and so invisible to us, anything to do with celebrating who she is and what she represents has very little impact. Apart from a long weekend to mark her birthday. Her jubilees too - 25th, 50th, Diamond - come and go here, the average citizen barely noticing. But in the UK of course, completely different story. A jubilee is an event, something to plan for and anticipate, a celebration - let' s have a party!

In 1977, Satish Patel is 11. His family have been living in the town of Bourne Heath for a few years, having fled Uganda when Idi Amin took control in 1972, as did many other Indians. He doesn't look English, he doesn't feel English, the food his mother cooks is not English, he has had to learn how to be English. The school playground has been his training and battle ground, and this spills over into the street where he lives with the other children who live there - all English, naturally. The jubilee is being celebrated by a street party, lots of food, bunting, trestle tables, new clothes and excitement. A photo is captured of the day by an unknown photographer, with Satish right in the fore front of the photo. Seen as the symbol of the new multi cultural Britian, the photo is picked up by a newspaper, immediately becomes famous, as does its photographer. Over the years, the photo pops up on advertising, as the album cover for a famous band - much like the Sex Pistols. It becomes infamous.

A photo however does not reveal what is going on immediately before being snapped, or immediately after. Certain events happen on that day to Satish, the scars of which he always carries with him. Now, he is a very successful cardiologist, married, two children, but the memories of that day never leave him. With another jubilee looming, he is approached by one of the other children in the photo, now a troubled young woman, to re-enact the photo. Understandably he is very unwilling, and much of the book is how he wrestles with his demons as the pressures of work and family life build up.

The story, narrated in both 1977 and present day, is a slow simmerer rather than a pot boiler. At times I really wanted it to hurry up and get a move on. The incident(s) that happened before and after the taking of the photo are not revealed either until towards the end, but it is hardly surprising that they have their roots in racism towards Satish and his family. The story moves constantly between the past and the present, which is a little confusing at times, as do the other children/now adults. I would have liked to know more about how the lives of the other children panned out, as there is very little connection between the events and children of 1977, how they are now and why they want the updated photo to be taken again.

Still worth reading I think, as a snapshot of another time, and the loss of childhood innocence. It is interesting that the author was born in South Africa, but grew up in the very town and street she has set her story in. Her father and uncle were photographed in party hats at a trestle table during a street party to celebrate VE Day. This is where she got the idea of a story, which she set in 1977 when she herself was ten years old and went to a jubilee street party. 


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