Hand On The Sun: A passionate and powerful novel of race and class in England
Forty years after Tariq Mehmood’s first novel was published by Penguin Books in 1983, a new and expanded edition is being published. The book charted the experience of the second generation migrants to the UK. Set in the declining textile industry of the North of England, it is a raw story of pain and anger at the relentlessness of British racism, from the street to the state – a story of an unquenchable desire for justice, and reclaiming human dignity. A dignity that is wrapped around new questions of Identity, a crossroad between religion, language, history and resistance. It is a little big story, that talks to the extremities of social, political and literary issues today? Can stories of a generation be appropriated? How important is religion in identity? If all you have is a story to tell, who should you tell it? Are the issues of today, just the issues of today or can we learn something from the past? In these stories, friendship is not defined by religion or colour, but by humanity. And racism is much more than skin deep.
The new edition has a preface by Tariq Mehmood in which he reflects on how the book came to be written out of the experience of his comrades Bradford 12 and himself being detained and charged with acts of terrorism, charges of which they were acquitted. He reflects on the real-life people on whom each character in the novel was based. He discusses what has happened over the subsequent forty years, some of which was predicted in the pages of the original novel. But what makes this new edition vibrant is the addition of five new chapters in which the original characters reappear, only now forty years older. Had he written the novel today, how would it be different? To what extent did the surge in popular struggles of the 1980s inform the novel, and what has been the effect of neoliberalism and the downturn in popular movements in the current period? Today, every act of protest or organizing faces the threat of being accused of being acts of terrorism by the state, especially if you are viewed as Muslim.
An exhilarating read that bears witness to the urgent 80’s battles against state and popular racism. As important now as then.— Peter Kalu, novelist
It is a novel that paved the way for other novelists. Nikesh Shukla wrote:
I love this novel. I think it’s exceptional. It changed my life. It helped me deal with my anger about the injustice our community faced when I was a teenager. I read this when I was 14, having found them amongst my teenager uncle’s things when he vacated our shared room. It changed me, it made me a writer. We deserve a canon of British South Asian literature that speaks to the history of this country, that speaks to now and to the far right’s emboldened coming out from the shadows of recent years, that speaks to this country’s unwillingness to confront racism, that also speaks to a period of history that is not archived properly.
As the late A. Sivanandan, Director, Institute of Race Relations and Editor of Race and Class, wrote in his review of the book in Race and Class , (25 (2) 100-1, 1983: “This is the first authentic novel of the Asian experience in Britain – written in the taut, tense style in which that experience itself is lived in the interstices of a racist society. Inevitably it is a novel written by someone who – from his arrival [in the UK] as a boy of eleven from a Pakistani village to his arraignment as a conspirator against the British state at twenty-five – has had his life forged on the smithy of his race [and] finds therein the conscience of his class … the author charts the political journey of black youth in Britain”
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