Empire of the Mind – BOOK REVIEW

EMPIRE OF THE MIND

A Journey Through Great Britain

Iqbal Ahmed

Constable (London), 2006

 

American anglophiles would do well to read this mostly non-judgmental report from an anglo-Kashmiri on his explorations outside London to check on the status of other immigrants.  

Ahmed’s travels by train and his bicycle to nine cities, starting with Oxford where he visits a student from Oman who attends a university (but not THE university); Hashim, one of 14 children, is unhappy with his £4,000 monthly allowance, not enough for weekends in London, where he derives any pleasure he gets out of his English life by socializing with family members. A very different picture is portrayed by a Hyderabad-born friend in Birmingham who was too dark-skinned for his Mipuri mother-in-law, and is hoping to earn enough money leave honorably with his wife and child.

The author’s view is unemotional, yet personal, as if deeply committed to a concern that he never fully articulates. It is described by one reviewer as “poignant.” The Observer says he “Brilliantly observes the chilly, rootless life lived by many immigrants.” I would say his subjects seem self-displaced. Some will return home, others will continue to live among their countrymen in exile, sort of.

 Ahmed’s observant qualities allow readers to picture the streets and shops he discovers along the way. His attachment to his bicycle gives rare insight to what it is like to depend on one (as many living in London do), and his love affair with the dictionary provides an underlying motif that gives us some insight to who he is, the well-educated son of professionals who happens to be aware of the confusion in a rapidly changing world, what the English call their “immigrant problem.”

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