Boyd Tonkin: Islands of love in a sea of suspicion

The Week In Books

Sometimes the flesh-creeping power of punditry in Britain far outstrips any stunt that you may meet on Halloween. The media fright-masks came out in force this week. Furious columnists gave the bruised Nick Griffin a get-well-soon present in the shape of claims that crafty ministers and their shadowy advisers had conspired to foist a multi-cultural society on Britain. The government responded with appeasing blather about keeping people out. As it happens, I spent my Saturday at the Imperial War Museum. Its special exhibition, "From War to Windrush", shows how thousands of Caribbean men and women crossed oceans and moved mountains to persuade ministers that they should be allowed to fight, and die, for this country in both world wars. Which, of course, they did.

With panicked politicians and the bully press so forgetful of our shared history, it falls to literature to tell the truth. The coming weeks will offer readers, and TV viewers, some precious chances to appreciate the origins of so much British "diversity". So often, it all came down to love. I realise that idea may shock the sensibilities of our best-paid commentators. We can, if they prefer, discuss "inter-racial sex".

The stylish and moving BBC adaptation (by Paula Milne and Sarah Williams) of Andrea Levy's prize-harvesting novel Small Island will bring a fresh audience to its saga of hearts and destinies entwined in spite of every barrier that empire and its aftermath could raise. Next month, Zadie Smith will publish her volume of collected essays Changing my Mind, which includes a group of wonderfully tender and loving pieces about her Bromley-born father. This week the poet and novelist Bernardine Evaristo releases an expanded edition of her 1997 novel-in-verse Lara (Bloodaxe, 8.95). It semi-autobigraphically traces a family history across two centuries and three continents, via a journey that embraces Brazil, Nigeria, Germany, Ireland and ultimately England. We should pity the bigots. How many mingled souls will they have to disentangle, how many bodily fluids will they have to unmix, before their fantasies of uniformity and separation can ever come to pass?

In the face of the tidal surges of affection and curiosity that such stories tell, the notion that ministers can legislate to mould minds sounds doolally. (Doolally? From the maddening boredom of troops in transit at the Deolali camp, north of Bombay.) In the case of Levy, Smith and Evaristo, one aspect of their work needs to be trumpeted from the rooftops now. Once more, we are being sold the big fib that cultural pluralism is a zero-sum game in which, abetted by sinister elitists, the "minorities" win and and the "majority" loses. Every one of these authors and I could name a dozen others salutes and celebrates every facet of a many-shaded heritage. "This is London-stylee," snaps Evaristo's young soul rebel of an artist, Lara. "My influences are Hackney, Afro-beat and Blue Peter".

Of course, the stormy passage towards a creole Britain did not make headway without plenty of strain, pain and heartache. In Lara, Evaristo registers the jolt of the encounters that recur down her generations not only the mix of Nigerian "rice and peas" with "Yorkshire pud/ meat and two veg" in the heroine's parents' marriage, but the bruising arrival of the Irish in Liverpool, Germans in London, Yoruba in Brazil and back again. The narrative couplets crackle with the tension on the tongue bred by all these conjunctions. New life and new language enters this trans-oceanic world thanks to people who flout the advice an old German sailor gives to his young compatriot Louis as, in 1860, he docks in the "angry, savage, hungry city" of London. "Stick to your own". He did not, and neither did millions like him. At a time when raucous public voices want to shout us back into boxes, it takes writers to remind us of the pleasures and the virtues of impurity.

P.S.In the twilight world of the agent, a quiet deal or two may achieve a coup that puts one player strategically ahead of every rival power. News declassified this week reveals that John Le Carr, creator of Smiley and Karla, has defected from Hodder & Stoughton who "ran" him for 38 years to Penguin, which will publish not only a new novel but his whole 21-book backlist in its Modern Classics list. Step forward the fixer in the shadows: literary agent Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown. Earlier this month, Geller shepherded another "asset" Nelson Mandela, no less safely into the arms of Pan Macmillan (and many other publishers worldwide) for his prison diaries, Conversations with Myself. In the competing agencies of Wyliegrad and Victorstan, the lights burn late in fizzy-water-filled rooms. How to resist the rise and rise of Gelleria?

b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform