I haven’t written a blog post in over a month. I’m not sure why, but like many Muslims (particularly women), the last few weeks have found me retreating into myself a little. Whilst I have been lurking around social media, the comments section of practically every article even mildly related to Islam/Muslims/POC has slowly been driving me to despair. So I took a step back. But then I came across something wonderful via Naomi Frisby’s twitter which offered me a glimmer of hope, #DiverseDecember. Inspired by Nikesh Shukla’s observation over the lack of diversity for- wait for it – ‘World’ Book Night, Naomi and fab fellow blogger , Dan came up with the hashtag to encourage us all to celebrate and read books by BAME authors. At the Pocobookreader, this is obviously something close to my heart, (even if it sometimes feels like I’m preaching to the converted), but the momentum and support that Diverse December has gained is inspiring. I actually volunteered for World Book Night this year and sighed at the book list (especially as I wanted to distribute among a majority immigrant community, who normally wouldn’t read fiction in English), but I did nothing. Feeling defeated and tired of fighting for my position to be heard, I rather negatively took from the reading list the same lesson that I took from the comments sections- your voice doesn’t matter in the mainstream. For me that’s why Diverse December means so much more than a change in usual reading habits. At a time when I (and many other POC) feel increasingly harangued, it feels like a warm bookish embrace, a small nod to inclusivity that managed to coax me out of hiding! So in honour of that, here’s a short review of Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited as my contribution to #Diverse December.
Nikesh Shukla’s debut novel, Coconut Unlimited reads like a friendly reminisce with an old friend. Following the lives of three Asian boys at a private school in Harrow in the 90’s, Shukla’s portrayal of awkward adolescence, balancing social and cultural divides, and just the cringe worthy moments of being a teenager read like a snapshot of British Asian childhood. Born and raised in Harrow myself, the story is familiar, hilarious and very true to life. And that’s not just because of the locality- but rather because the story serves as a microcosm of the second generation immigrant experience at large. The self conscious feelings of not quite fitting into any box whilst simultaneously (and often embarrassingly!) trying to tick every one is an experience that many immigrant kids can relate to, before eventually choosing to immerse yourself into the least expected one! ( I rather embarrassingly remember myself and a group of other Asian girls forcing ourselves to cry in the playground when Tupac died!!) Whilst Shukla has perfectly captured the angst and hilarity of being a teenage misfit with ease, it is his understated prose and often tender treatment of the characters that really stand out for me. When reading Coconut Unlimited, there is an overwhelming sense that Shukla has put an awful lot of himself into the story and the result is an impassioned, funny and vibrant debut. I’ve gifted this book to a lot of people and they all loved it and I must confess I do too, relatable and readable, what’s not to love?!
What did you guys think of Coconut Unlimited and have you read any other of Shukla’s books? I, surprisingly, have not so would love to hear your recommendations.