What’s Your Problem by UK writer Bali Rai was published in 2003, yet it still rings true today.
Jaspal’s family has just moved from Leicester to the country, and he finds himself having to cope with racism that is more brutal and direct than any he’s dealt with before. The novel is a quick read, and fascinating on many levels. It’s absolutely what we used to call a “problem novel,” driven by a single storyline related to a social issue. The first person narrative is direct and unadorned.
The story arc ends without much resolution at all, just a huge and somehow inevitable loss, paired with a terrible stroke of justice. It’s a seemingly hopeless and abrupt ending, and yet Jaspal’s relationship with Jemma redeems the gloom. The mother is a wraith of a character. We barely even see her, and yet she matters intensely in the end.
What’s saddest of all, of course, is that this kind of racism ought to be a thing of the past, but of course, on both sides of the pond, that is far from being the case.