On Brick Lane, By Rachel Lichtenstein

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The Independent Culture

"The Past being over and done with now falls prey to our invention," wrote Walter Benjamin, a statement called upon by Rachel Lichtenstein, who argues that Brick Lane in London's East End has been reinvented by novelists and filmmakers, but who has a personal motive for preserving what memories she can of its past. Brick Lane was a mythical landscape to her as a child, since her grandparents, hardworking Polish Jewish refugees, opened their first jewellery shop there.

As an artist in local schools, she becomes acquainted with the local Bangladeshi community. The tension and simmering resentments between the old Banglatown and new ways of life are well captured, as dilapidated buildings give way to shiny new apartments and posh restaurants. Buried beneath newly paved streets are archaeological treasures, and through a mix of archival research and first-hand documentary, Lichtenstein attempts an excavation before they become erased.

With a painterly eye for vivid and memorable detail, she imbues the narrative with a sense of urgency and nostalgia, in what is a multilayered, open-ended – rather than prescriptive – portrait.