“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you thought special…particular to you. And here is it…set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met. Maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” – Hector, The History Boys. — Alan Bennett
The Boy With the Topknot. Sathnam Sangeera.
At first sight this book would not be a likely candidate for me to identify with in the way that Alan Bennett describes. It is Sathnam Sangeera’s account of growing up in the Sikh community in Wolverhampton, finding a life in the London media away from home, and returning to explore the culture and family which he had left, something that I have no experience of and knew little about. I might have expected to find it fascinating, moving and funny- it’s a great book full of honesty insight and humour- but identification? Probably not. All the same I devoured my way through every page, feeing completely at home with Sathnam as he explains how he came to terms with living with a foot in two different cultures and looked into his past in order to understand his present. It took me a while to work out why, and then I got it. You see you don’t have to move away from your own ethnic background to leave behind the culture that you were brought up in. I was the first in my family to get a degree and I also moved away to a life very different from that of my relatives. I was never able to talk to them about books and theatre- it wasn’t something that they were interested in- and I developed completely different interests and tastes to theirs. I know what it is like to love people and be close to them when you have absolutely nothing in common. Even if there are no family secrets to uncover that situation would make you think, and when there are, as there were with Sathnam and I, it leads any thoughtful intelligent adult towards a journey of discovery which is difficult but ultimately fulfilling and even essential. Reading about someone else making that journey was not just a window on another culture, it shone a light on what has happened in my own life during the last ten years. That is what books are for.
A Cracking of the Heart. David Horovitz.
This is an account, by the writer David Horovitz, of the life of his daughter Sarah, a writer and political activist, written after her early death at the age of 44 from heart complications associated with her Turner Syndrome. It is a very moving and heartfelt book, fiercely honest in the way that only someone writing their way through deep sadness can be, a compassionate record of his relationship with his daughter, which shines a light into the dark places of his grief and tries to make sense of their joys and difficulties together as he slowly gets to know her in a new way by reading her writing and finding out more about the parts of her life which they didn’t share. Sarah was clever and creative, a caring woman with a strong social conscience, loved by her friends but shy of developing relationships with the opposite sex. Thanks to her Turner syndrome she was physically short and far from strong, with a weak heart and hips and poor hearing, but she never let this hold her back and led a full and active life, politically engaged and always ready to champion the cause of anyone who needed help. As I read David Horovitz’s book I was moved by his openness, his willingness to go to difficult places in order to understand his lost daughter better and I came to like him very much. He is hard on himself, perhaps harder than he needs to be, but grief leads you to think that way sometimes and understanding leads to acceptance. This is the process which he describes in the book.
I was able to read with an understanding and insight based on personal experience. I have Turner Syndrome myself and for the last ten years I have been on the national committee of the UK Turner Syndrome Support Society so I have met many other women and girls with TS and their parents. If there had been a false note I would have known, not through cleverness but through personal identification and spending time listening to the experiences of others who faced similar challenges to those that Sarah faced. I know that David Horovitz is writing with truth and clarity because I have met women like Sarah and I have met parents who felt as he did when he is describing their relationship.
This is a brave book and I wish that I could thank him personally for writing it. Sadly I will never meet Sarah but I feel that I know her through his account and through the people that I have met. She would be very proud of her father.