Sunday, August 08, 2010

Review: Coming to England

With the little micro-ripple of gossip that Floella Benjamin may stand for selection to be the Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate I thought it was probably time to review her book Coming to England.

Now, I'm of an age that I remember the deep and transfixing crush I had on Benjamin watching her on Playschool as I grew up. Her irrepressible energy and warmth that she displayed on the box also runs through this book like an iron thread, and I have to say it's a great read.

Intended, I think, for younger people trying to cope with the immigrant experience and to explain a bit of the history of how some came to this country, and what that was like for them, it's a simply written account of Benjamin's childhood in Trinidad and the great wrench it was to come here as a child.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I opened Coming to England but I certainly was not prepared to devour the whole thing in one sitting nor to find myself wiping away tears as she recounted in a clear and concise manner the veil of sadness that descended upon her life.

As she described the joy of her early family life you are reminded that she is not exactly one of life's cynics. Whether she's describing the food, her siblings or even the toilet she manages to bestow the glow of fond remembrance on it all. Frankly, if the whole book had been like that I would not have been disappointed, but her feelings when first her father left them behind to go to England and then her mother left the kids too leaving them split up between two strange households would melt the coldest heart.

I wouldn't want to ruin the book for anyone who's intending to read it but we eventually progress from Island life to England where her troubles are far from over. The racism Benjamin encountered as a child may not have dulled her spirit but to find yourself hated, even in church, for being something that you didn't even know you were a year before must have been a devastating experience.

Now, of course, she's a baroness but whatever I might think of the people she's chosen to affiliate to I found this book a real education. Not because it necessarily told me facts I didn't know already but because it painted so vividly how it felt to live them.


Dawn Foster said...

Does she talk about her culinary range?

Jim Jepps said...

She does talk about her love of food quite a lot. Although, as I'm not keen on ginger, I may choose a different soup in her kitchen... which I'm sure are all delicious