It is 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and a photographer captures a moment forever: a street party with bunting and Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze. Right in the centre of the frame, a small Asian boy stares intently into the camera. The photograph becomes iconic, a symbol of everything that is great about Britain. But the harmonious image conceals a very different reality. Amid the party food and the platform shoes, the pop music and the punk, there are tensions in the Cherry Gardens community. As the street party begins, those tensions threaten to erupt. Fast forward to the present and the boy, Satish, has become a successful cardiologist, saving lives, respected by those around him. But he is living with a secret. When Satish is asked to take part in a reunion of those involved in that Jubilee photograph, he must confront the truth about that day, and the events that changed the course of his life.
The idea for Jubilee…
Jubilee started with a family photograph of a V.E. Day street party. The lad in the back centre (tie askew, baleful expression) grew up to be my dad. The little boy front centre (face like a wet weekend) is now my Uncle John. My parents still have this photo up in their hallway, and I don’t know how many times I’d passed it before I felt the click which began Jubilee.
The click was like this: I started to wonder about the curious double edge of street party photographs; they mark moments of national importance, but we keep them in our photo albums because of their private, familial significance. Because we know about the national event, we think we understand what those pictures mean, but the most important things about them often remain a mystery. I asked myself why the kids looked so miserable, where my Nanna was, how my granddad was celebrating. I wondered what each of those children had lost – and gained – during the war. And crucially, I wanted to know what happened next.
I began to see a possible story emerging, and at first I thought I might set it in the forties. But increasingly I wanted to explore my own history, my own childhood. In 1977 there was another great street party, now remembered by almost every British person over forty. It was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and we were on the cusp of change.
In ’77 there was an almost fanatical enthusiasm for the Jubilee and all things royal, but a few years later the British public’s relationship with the monarchy would transform forever. The National Front was at the peak of its popularity, but Britain was being shaped, as it always has been, by the ordinary lives of the people who live here – wherever they’ve come from. Among the most remarkable of those people were the Ugandan Asians exiled by Idi Amin in 1972; their story is extraordinary (and there’s a wonderful article about them here). As I learned more, I knew I’d found my central character – Satish. And then there was the music: the year before the Jubilee, punk had come along, and changed the face of British culture.
Why Cherry Gardens?
I chose Cherry Gardens because that was where I grew up. I’ve changed the names of the road and the village. The characters are invented, but not much else. Satish’s family live in the house where my parents still live, Satish’s school is my old school, and the landscape of the village is exactly the same. I’ve even slipped in some names – and a few incidents – from my own childhood.
So compelling that I couldn’t put it down. This is an exceptional, arresting novel
Jubilee is an assured debut by a writer of great promise. It's a sharply-written account of the birth pangs of multicultural Britain
The suspense simply builds and builds
Nostalgic and moving
The genius of this novel is the gentle way that the mysteries of the narrative unfold, fully immersing you in the story... it has a heart and soul
Boldly plotted and confidently executed, its momentum maintained to the end
A new novelist whose next book you are already impatient to read
Remarkably assured...shrewdly-observed...the pitch-perfect children's banter and accurate period detail lend authenticity to her prose...an exciting debut that suggests this author will offer many more insightful and compelling stories in the years ahead
This deft and moving debut offers more than Seventies nostalgia
What a treat this book was. A clever idea, beautifully realised...this is powerful stuff