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England Is Mine by Nicolas Padamsee review – battle lines drawn

England Is Mine by Nicolas Padamsee review – battle lines drawn

The perilous porousness between our online and offline worlds is the spark for Nicolas Padamsee’s tinderbox thriller about two teenage boys. Deeply astute and devastating in its commentary on immigrant communities, England Is Mine joins a new generation of politically charged novels – including Megha Majumdar’s A Burning and Priya Guns’s Your Driver Is Waiting – in exposing the power and pitfalls of online platforms.

Two youths, David and Hassan, whose intertwined tales are told by turns, are students at the same school in east London. David is a strict vegan and has few friends. He doesn’t plan on going to university (“There would be no reading novels anyway, he thinks. There would only be criticising novels for their heteronormativity, their whiteness, their Europeanness, their whateverness”). As an Anglo-Iranian, he perpetually feels the burden of the question “Where are you from?” His parents are divorced. Between caring for his vulnerable father on the one hand, and bickering with his overbearing but well-meaning mother on the other, he is forced to flit between two houses but rarely feels at home.

He puts all his faith and teenage angst into music – and his hero, Karl Williams, reminiscent of Morrissey from the Smiths. A series of bigoted comments get the singer-songwriter in trouble, and, soon enough, he is cancelled. The news further unmoors David. Slowly at first, then very swiftly, he begins to lose himself to the far-right corners of the dark web – full of trolls, rows and racists.

Meanwhile, Hassan, a West Ham fan, dutiful son and diligent student, is drifting apart from his childhood friends, who care less about grades and more about drugs and drinking. He finds it hard to shrug off comments that reveal “the way white people in Britain see Muslims”, and is determined to defy false perceptions and get into Goldsmiths. But a violent, racially motivated encounter in a park involving both boys radically alters their life trajectories.

Scarred by this event, David begins to lose his sense of self. He lets himself fall prey to – and eventually participate in – the anti-Islam rhetoric to which he’s exposed online. Hassan, who was an innocent bystander, becomes his enemy and therefore his victim. In the pages that follow, he is reduced to nothing more than “the Muslim” in David’s mind; David becomes “the Aryan”. Now, there’s no room for nuance.

The pace, which is skilfully sustained through 300 pages, quickens as notifications from Twitter (now called X) and YouTube pile-ons keep phones buzzing, then steadies as the two boys face violent moments in the streets. Whether David is in the mosh pit at a gig or caught up in Call of Duty, whether Hassan is playing online Fifa or volunteering for a Muslim Youth Centre helpline, the novel never loses sight of the reader, whether they can relate to gamer and football culture or not.

Padamsee tackles difficult issues – cancel culture, freedom of speech, online radicalism and neo-nazism, masculinity, racial identity, and herd mentality – with a deftness rare for debuts. For his second-generation immigrants, seeking some semblance of belonging in an alienating world, the stakes get ever higher.

As the two teenagers come of age – their beliefs hardened, their hearts broken – we are left questioning our politics and ethics. Who draws the lines between right and left, right and wrong, and what happens when those lines are redrawn, or entirely erased? England is mine. England is mine. England is mine. When the country you call home doesn’t consider you one of its own, who or what will you live – or die – for? Sometimes all you’re left with are desperate, hollow cries in the dark.

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Source: theguardian.com