I picked up ‘This is London’ at Heathrow airport as I emigrated to Australia. The irony of reading about the city I was leaving behind, my home of the past 7 years, was not lost on me. Ben Judah, the author, is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has focused on his home city. He reveals the hidden London society that many of us have no awareness of. He speaks with beggars, bankers, coppers, gangsters, prostitutes, carers and witch-doctors to provide a compelling portrait of place, culture and of people. It’s a eclectic portrayal of multiculturalism in Britain in the nation’s capital.
As stated on Amazon’s write up, ‘over one-third of Londoners were born abroad, with half arriving since the millennium,’ which has irrevocably altered the character and fabric of the capital. London is stronger for its diversity, at least in my opinion. However it’s all too easy as a middle-class white woman to view diversity in simplistic terms of a choice of world cuisines and hearing multiple languages spoken on my commute. Ben Judah dives deeper, uncovering extremes of cultural experience within society.
He speaks with Gulf princesses in Knightsbridge, sleeps rough with Romanians in Hyde Park and helps Nigerian carers as they are abused by the very patients they’re looking after. It is unflinching and painful to read at times, detailing a grittier, unpleasant side of diversity in London, describing challenges suffering by migrant communities struggling to make a living in an unforgiving city. It also proudly displays London’s compassion. A poignant example is the story of trafficked Filipino maids who are desperate to reach London, as they know if they can escape, they will be listened to, looked after, saved.
It was interesting reading this book whilst settling into my first few weeks in Sydney, a city diverse in its own way yes, but nothing in comparison to the cultural melting pot of home. It made me yearn for the noise, the smells, the constant push and pull of London; a sprawling patchwork of communities meshed together by a common fear of speaking to strangers on the tube. I loved this book, and I think you will too.
|Author: Ben Judah|
|Buy: This is London|
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