Shelley HarrisIt's 1977, the day of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, when a photographer captures a moment forever: a festive street party with bunting and Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze and, right in the centre of the frame, a small Asian boy staring intensely at the camera. The photo becomes infamous when it is adopted as a symbol of everything that is great and good about Britain, but what is the real story behind it? Relationships between the neighbours on Cherry Gardens are far from easy, and minor frictions threaten to erupt as the street party begins...Fast forward to the present and that boy, Satish, is now a successful paediatric heart surgeon, saving lives and families every single day. But he's living with a secret - he's addicted to controlled prescription drugs. A message about a proposed reunion of the children in the photograph throws his life into turmoil as he thinks back to Jubilee Day, and the events that changed his life for ever.
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Richard: An assured debut from Shelley Harris – and shrewdly timed, too, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year.
Harris’s novel harks back 35 years to another royal jubilee; the Queen’s silver. At the heart of this rich, emotional story is a photograph, taken at one of the many street parties held up and down the country. It is innocent enough on the surface and quaintly dated, too – Crimplene, flares and terrible haircuts adorn the smiling figures sitting at a trestle-table in a street in suburban Buckinghamshire.
Right at the front of the picture is a 12 year old Asian boy, Satish. He looks happy enough, a white friend’s arm slung around his shoulder. Satish stands out because his is the only non-white face in the crowd. The photograph becomes a sensation, and is published everywhere. Commentators say it represents the new, at-ease-with-itself multi-racial Britain. An Asian boy and his family are celebrating the Queen’s big day alongside their white neighbours, on equal terms. Integration has arrived.
Satish is mortified by his sudden celebrity. He is embarrassed and feels horribly exposed. More than that, he knows the now-iconic image is profoundly misleading. His vivid memories of the events leading up to the street party, and their devastating conclusion as it was in full swing, haunt him all his life. Now a successful cardiologist with a wife and family, Satish only wants to forget what happened that day. But the photograph – and the others in it – make that impossible. As his past and present lock themselves on a traumatic collision course, Satish realises the time has come for him to face the demons of his childhood.
Judy: My own memories of 1977 are vivid, because I had just given birth for the first time. Harris’s sense of period is spot-on. Her descriptions of fashion, television, pop music and the emergence of punk, are totally authentic. But it is her understanding of what it was like to be an Asian family living amongst white ones that really makes the story sing. Gradually we realise that although Satish’s neighbours see themselves as welcoming and unprejudiced, bigotry and intolerance lurk just below the surface. It doesn’t take much to expose them and poor Satish’s ghastly experiences on the day of the street party are truly anguishing. It is no wonder he wants to forget them.
Once the fuss surrounding the photo dies down, Satish thinks he can return to comforting obscurity. Unfortunately the man who took the snap, a local newspaper photographer, has other ideas. The picture is his ticket to better things and to Satish’s horror, it is adapted for the album cover of a punk band (clearly based on the Sex Pistols). The image goes global as a classic of Britpop art and Satish is more famous than ever. Worse, thirty years on, The Sunday Times wants to commission a re-take, featuring everyone in the original from 30 years earlier.
Satish comes under huge pressure to agree. He has never spoken to anyone about that humiliating day – not even his wife. No-one understands his deep reluctance to have anything to do with the project and we, the readers, are only slowly let into his dreadful secret. That makes for an arresting, compelling read. Unputdownable.
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