In her introduction to Too Asian, Not Asian Enough, a collection of short fiction from “the new generation” of British Asian writers, editor Kavita Bhanot rails against the dominant narratives of British Asian identity: oppressive, traditional parents; rebellious, misunderstood (and misunderstanding) children. These narratives are, she says, restrictive and, since they’re now emblematic of the British Asian “brand”, inherently white middle-class or bourgeois Indian in their sympathies. Some writers, she points out, want to write about other stuff, while others might want to write about this same stuff but in a different way. Sadly, the brand’s success means that such writers risk accusations of being “too Asian” or “not Asian enough”. I can believe this and imagine how irritating it must be.
I am less sure, however, whether this collection is a successful means of addressing the problem. Sure, the stories cover varied subject matter – from the purchase of high-quality human hair (Niven Govinden’s charming “La Coiffeuse”) to the hilarious bathetic demise of David Beckham (“Tablet Of Bliss” by Rajeev Balasubramanyam) – but here’s the thing: if you need to be convinced that British Asians have as wide an array of stories to tell as any other broad-brush grouping (of ethnicity, class or gender, say), you’re unlikely to buy this book. And if you don’t need convincing, you’re left contemplating a rather disjointed collection with some tonal peculiarities (Suhayl Saadi’s “Mosaic”, a quasi-erotic tale of ancient Rome, for example, is not best served sandwiched between contemporary Mancunian tales of the rag trade and gay romance).
Nonetheless, it is worth persevering, because there are some terrific stories here. Nikesh Shukla’s “Iron Nose” bristles with satirical intent, while Bidisha’s “Dust”, a tale of small town pederasty, is smart and affecting. The greatest pleasure, however, is in the discovery of upcoming talent – Dimmi Khan, Azmeena Ladha, Rohan Kar and Bhanot herself are all new names to me but deliver accomplished, entertaining stories that suggest a bright and diverse future for British Asian fiction. And that is, I suppose, the point.
Patrick Neate is author of ‘Jerusalem’ (Penguin)
Too Asian, Not Asian Enough: Fiction from the New Generation, edited by Kavita Bhanot, Tindal Street Press, RRP£12.99, 271 pages