Sunday 14 July 1996
Twenty-seven-year-old Diran Adebayo marks a bagful of firsts with his debut novel: it is the first winner of the new Saga Book Prize, launched by Marsha Hunt to encourage Black British writing, and it is Virago's first fiction from a living male.
Some Kind of Black is a London story, encompassing varied aspects of life in the urban Nineties as seen from a black perspective; it is also a tale of coming of age that traces the course of one eventful summer which transforms the main protagonist Dele (Oxford-educated and a second- generation Nigerian, like his creator) from cocky and naive student into a man with a more sober and cynical outlook.
Adebayo's strikingly innovative use of language - fusing British and Jamaican slang in a way that reflects changes in society and changes in vocabulary and inflection filtering up from the streets to create a new oral communication unique to London - gives this sometimes over-ambitious picaresque its high-octane pace.
As well as taking on language and moulding it to his purpose, Adebayo is unfazed by the prospect of tackling a trailer-load of complex issues about race and racism. He gently and deftly pokes fun at racism in the black and white communities alike - white liberals are given short shrift ("they shake your hand and pee on your trousers"), but no more so than the rootsy "Nubians" who call their kids Shaka or Maleeka but have difficulty in locating Africa on the map.
Through Dele's class- and race-peppered journey, Adebayo has no qualms about stating that both sides, or "tribes", have their hidden agendas. Dele comes to the painful realisation that each has their own warped assumptions about the other's world. In that respect, there's a certain homogeneity - each side can easily seem as corrupt and messed up as the other.
Adebayo's novel wryly captures the essence of a tribalised society, and, in doing so, has a powerful resonance for us all, black or white, as his complex web of storylines and characters culminates in a surprising denouement.
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