Yo, ’sup. Me n u b safe, blud, innit?
Jas has almost got the street talk down. But sometimes the brainy 18-year-old Indian living in London’s Hounslow district slips up with an educated “poncey” word, a vulnerable gesture.
In this much-heralded debut novel by Gautam Malkani, Jas—a young journalist for Financial Times—finds status by hanging with a violent gang of “desi” rudeboys from moneyed families. School and career plans plummet while he tonks up in a posh gym, leads a lavish high life with money from the gang’s stolen-cell-phone scam, and finds his first girlfriend. She’s Muslim, he’s not. And that’s when more serious criminals reveal themselves.
The novel’s disaffected young Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims coexist in a Britain of divided cultural enclaves while rejecting assimilation to white “gora” culture. A mix of filthy but amusing hip-hop, Punjabi, British and American slang pullulates as Jas seeks to frame his own confused teenage thoughts about peers and immigrant parents and to learn the perennial “art of being a guy.”
Malkani is weakest on character and plot, but his comic grasp of “bling-bling urban youth culture” is wikid. His lodestars are cell phones, texting, e-mail, the Web, MTV and conspicuous affluence. Londonstani begins as a daunting curtain of dialect, but ends as a dazzling tour-de-force mirror of the Absolute Now.