Tales of Two Londons: Stories From a Fractured City
Edited by Claire Armitstead
(O/R Books, £13)
LONDON is a dangerously divided entity and the effects of gentrification, alienation and eradication on the capital's inhabitants, at the mercy of cost-cutting governments and the unjust housing market, are not always evident to the very privileged until it's too late.
The city is trying to hold itself together at a point in history when it is feeling “fractured and embattled as rarely before in peacetime,” writes Claire Armitstead, editor of Tales of Two Londons.
She has ensured that more than a third of the voices in her anthology of prose, poetry, reportage and letters reflect the fact that nearly 40 per cent of Londoners are not British-born.
Their voices runs deep. A Story in Three Languages by Memed Aksoy asks the reader to imagine being forbidden to speak in their mother tongue. A nation of people being told to “swallow their tongue” is a nation of people “not being,” he writes. Although he speaks of Kurds under the tyranny of Turkey, his words would resonate with many of those who are oppressed.
There is also the Grenfell Tower fire in "three acts," in which Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow regrets that he has been on the "wrong side of the terrible divide" that led to voices of the North Kensington community being ignored by the mainstream media.
This is tragically exemplified by a Grenfell Action Group blog post, also included in the collection, that prophesied a fire of such scale.
The divisions are also drawn between white and black. In The City As a Warzone by Penny Woolcock and Stephen Griffith refers to China Mieville's novel The City and The City which describes two metropolises occupying the same space, where the residents are “forbidden to acknowledge each other’s existence and have to unsee each other instantly.”
Refreshingly, Woolcock acknowledges her privileges as a white woman and states that she is lucky — amid escalating gang warfare between black teenagers in London for which there are “invisible front lines” naked to the eyes of others — that she can walk home to her Georgian residence in Islington “not thinking about losing my life.”
Notting Hill’s Last Stand is by Ed Vulliamy who, like me, was raised in the area long before the eponymous film coincided with the neighbourhood becoming an extension of Chelsea.
He launches a scathing attack on the gentrifiers and developers — "vultures and vandals" — picking through the local Bohemian, Caribbean, Cockney, Moroccan, Spanish and Portuguese cultures.
Although the money-go-round of development capitalises on authentically vibrant community and nostalgia — exemplified by the new faux identikit “villages” mushrooming around London — this love of the past is an irritant to giant developers who see sentimentality getting in the way of their grand designs.
Vulliamy's words will pierce the heart of anyone who has seen this destruction with their own eyes.
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