May 25, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Rosie Dastgir's debut novel A Small Fortune is a heartfelt and fresh look at the immigrant experience through the eyes of a Pakistani family in England.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"Dastgir's smartly written first novel entertains even as it captures the essence of the changing immigrant community and the slow urban decline of contemporary England. The story transcends fiction focused on a particular demographic, revealing struggles shared by many extended families."
For years I wrote screenplays, before writing A Small Fortune, my first novel. It's a book with a big cast of characters, and scenes that jump cut between east London, Lahore, and Yorkshire. I like to think there might be a sound track to this novel, inspired by the characters, and the terrain they inhabit, or stray into.
"Glass, Concrete and Stone," from Grown Backwards album - David Byrne
This song intensely captures something essential about the novel for me. I listened to the album endlessly in the noughties. The lyrics of this particular song are so pared down, yet suffused with feeling.
Glass, concrete and stone. It is just a house, not a home.
Harris, the Pakistani patriarch of the story, desperately wants to escape his house in the north of England - just a house, not a home. Home is elusive for him, perpetually elsewhere. It's a feeling that's mirrored by others in the novel, such as Rashid, a lonely young estate agent, cut adrift from his family in Pakistan, and looking without success for a way to feel at home in English society.
I'm wakin' at the crack of dawn to send a little money home
Everything's possible, when you're an animal, says Byrne.
Nino Rota, theme from 8 and a Half
I love Fellini's work, and the score that Nino Rota wrote for 8 and a half accompanies my image of Harris, driving the length of England, north to south, always on a mission, and yet somehow fundamentally lost. Rota's music captures that fusion of whimsy and melancholy, conjuring a vanished world.
As a young man, Harris has watched lots of Bollywood black and white movies from the 40s and 50s, their songs burnt into his soul.
Here is a clip from Barsaat, which means Rain, a Bollywood film directed by Raj Kapoor in 1949.
Harris loves sentimental old musical films like My Fair Lady and South Pacific. Coming to England in the 1960's, he attends classical concerts in Birmingham and Leeds, in an attempt to understand and absorb something of English culture.
When he drives around the Yorkshire moors, wooing a widow named Dr Farrah, this is the music he conjures up: Elgar's Enigma Variations, Beethoven's Pastoral symphony, Mahler's 4th, and Sibelius Symphony No. 1.
"Bratislava" - Beirut
Alia, Harris' nineteen year old daughter, gets herself a short crop at the east European hairdresser round the corner from her house in Whitechapel, east London. This isn't the kind of music the hairdressers listen to – they'd prefer Abba - but it reminds me of that mish mash that's so mesmeric in London, and how the influx of migrants has improved the food, the fashion, the music. If only they could fix the weather. That said, the Russian hairdressers I visited in Whitechapel complain bitterly that this London isn't England – it's full of foreigners.
"Cemeteries of London" – Coldplay
The novel celebrates London, its compost of history, ancient and modern, its nooks and crannies, dark alleyways and surprising vistas. The ambivalent beauty of this melancholy ballad reminds me of William Blake's poetic vision of the city.
Singing lalalalalal le, and the night over London lay.
Singing lalalalalala le, there's no light over London today
"LDN" – Lily Allen
Lily Allen on her bike. Alia on hers. Unlike Harris, who's wedded to his car, Alia makes use of a bike to get round east London: avoiding congestion charges and enjoying the freedom to see things that other people miss.
Riding round the city on my bike all day,
Cause the filth took away my licence
Exuberant lyrics play against a faux jaunty tune, conjuring up the tawdry glamour of London, its surface glitter and volatile energy that seduces and repels you in the blink of an eye.
When you look with your eyes,
Everything seems nice
But if you look twice, you can see it's all lies
Alia is struggling to work things out, like lots of Londoners her age, trying different ways of being in the world. Her love life flounders, and though she'd never admit it, she secretly listens to Macy Gray – "I Try."
I try to say goodbye and I choke
Try to walk away and I stumble
Though I try to hide it, it's clear
My world crumbles when you are not near
"Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" - Travis
The weather is a big deal in England; baffling to foreign visitors, it crops up all the time in conversation, and features strongly in the novel. Grey skies and the threat of rain constantly loom, plunging people into the doldrums. Alia's dropped out of school, and hides in her bedroom, watching the autumn rains pounding her window. Harris is forced to escape a storm and move in with his predatory relatives when his house is flooded.
Why does it always rain on me
Sunny days, where have you gone?
Rosie Dastgir and A Small Fortune links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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