The Lonely Londoners PDF

by Sam Selvon Q&A: What sparked the London riots?
On Saturday, August 13, in Tottenham, north London, an ethnically diverse area where locals had been protesting about the death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, a black man who was shot in a police operation on Thursday, August 11. This initial outbreak spread into several areas of London and other major British cities, such as Birmingham and Gloucester in central England, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool and Notthingham further north and Bristol in the southwest. On Monday afternoon, August 15, large gangs roamed Peckham and Hackney in east London, looting shops, attacking buses and setting cars and shops alight. Later that day, trouble spread to the leafy London suburb of Croydon, where several buildings, mainly shops, were set on fire. In Enfield, a large Sony distribution center was torched. (Source: CNN)
Prime Minister David Cameron blames the riots that shook Britain over the past 10 days on a "slow-motion moral collapse ... in parts of our country," he said Monday. Cameron listed problems including "Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control," in a speech in his constituency in Oxfordshire.
The riot made me pick up this 1956 novel by British Caribbean author Samuel Selvon (1923-1994) who is said to be The Father of Black Writing in Britain. The story is about the life of working-class black immigrants called West Indians who migrated to post-WWII London following the enactment of the British Nationality Act of 1948. The said act established the status of CUKC (Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies) allowing the people from the British colonies (Australia, Jamaica, Trinidad, etc) to come to UK without needing a visa. One of the reasons that the act was implemented was that many of the MPs of the day thought that few citizens of the Empire would want to reside in the UK. The Act was mostly repealed in 1983.

Selvon was one of those Trinidad-born people who went to London to work in the 1950s because of the said law. The Lonely Londoners focuses on the cultural differences between the whites and the immigrant blacks. It’s a precursor of other 1001 books like White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. Selvon was a contemporary of Nobel laureate in Literature, V. S. Naipaul.

The chapter-less novel is composed of 3-4 short stories, fused together in a continuous third-person narration. Each of those stories relates the experience of each Trinidadian immigrant to London. The milieu is London during involving people belonging to the Windrush Generation. This generation refers to the coming, via the ship called Empire Windrush, of the big batch (492 passengers) of West Indian immigrants from Jamaica on June 22, 1948. Those Jamaicans came to the UK hoping to start a new life. The passengers were the first large group from that country after WWII.The main protagonist Moses Aloetta is not a Jamaican but a Trinidadian (like the author Selvon) but he oftentimes is mistaken to be a Jamaican. Moses is one of the first to arrive in London. So he is asked to help and assist the new arrivals from Trinidad until they get settled in London or in other cities in UK.

One noteworthy aspect of this book is its narrative voice. It is written not in Standard English but in the English of the black people in West Indies during the 50’s and the 60’s called Creolized form of English. It reminded me a lot of how Thais or less-educated Filipinos speak.Wiki says that Selvon tried to write the novel using the standard form but it could not convey the experiences and articulate the desires of his characters. This worked well for me since it made my reading quite an experience.

So, how does the book relate to the on-going London riots? I am not an expert in that situation and I have not been to London but, despite what Prime Minister Cameron says above, I can smell that the problem is about alleged racism which is the same as this book’s theme.

I feel lonely (isn't that a synonym for sad?) even if I am not a Londoner.

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