Forest Gate

( 5 )


A shattering, poetic and raw first novel set among young Somalian refugees in the slums of London — beginning with a double suicide and ending with a rebirth.

In a community where poverty is kept close and passed from one generation to the next, two teenage boys, best friends, stand on top of twin tower blocks. Facing each other across the abyss of London's urban sprawl, they say their good-byes and jump. One dies. The other, alternating with ...

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Forest Gate: A Novel

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A shattering, poetic and raw first novel set among young Somalian refugees in the slums of London — beginning with a double suicide and ending with a rebirth.

In a community where poverty is kept close and passed from one generation to the next, two teenage boys, best friends, stand on top of twin tower blocks. Facing each other across the abyss of London's urban sprawl, they say their good-byes and jump. One dies. The other, alternating with the sister of the deceased, narrates this novel.

James gives us a window into the inner city — his mom is a crack addict, his gang "brothers" force him to kill another black boy. Meina describes with feeling her family history in Somalia: after her parents are killed before her eyes, her village aunt sells her to six husbands — before she is even a teenager. Desperate to rebuild their lives, James and Meina set out to find the place for which every child longs — home.

Brutal and shockingly violent in places, rambunctious and lively in others and slyly, dryly witty in yet others, Meina and James's journey toward life through their past is ultimately a powerful story of redemptive love and the debut of an extraordinary literary talent.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Akinti's first novel is a visceral attempt to detail the harsh lives of the poor and black in Britain."-The New York Times

"Hard to put down...Akinti is a master of setting a scene quickly and efficiently...Akinti's narrative is crisp and intriguing, jumpy but arresting- glimpses intoa nightmare." —Mobile Register

Simon Akam
Akinti grew up in Forest Gate, and his attempt to detail the contemporary black British experience is visceral and immediate…hot with fury…The novel elegantly illustrates contemporary Britain's failure to assimilate its immigrants, or to allow a hyphenated sense of identity…Akinti has acquitted himself with substantial elan and transformed a grim place into a thing of beauty.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Akinti’s raw and riveting debut novel begins with Ashvin, an angry teenage Somali refugee, and his best friend, James, on opposite rooftops in the slums of East London preparing to hang themselves in a suicide pact. Ashvin leaps, unable to bear the reality of his own life—his activist parents murdered in Somalia; his brutal rape at the hands of Ethiopian soldiers; the constant harassment by London police and his schoolmates; the endless battles he will face as a black man in England. He leaves behind Meina, the beloved older sister he had always tried to protect. James, a lonely, studious teen, the baby of the drug-dealing Morrison clan, whose brothers are dehumanized, violent criminals, desperately wants to escape the family business, but he can’t imagine a way out. When James jumps, but survives, Meina seeks James out, and they try to find shelter in one another. Akinti, himself a product of London’s council estates (public housing), captures in gracious and resonant prose the fear, anger, and sadness of life in the violent and poverty-stricken slums of London’s East End. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In this harrowing, gritty, and masterfully realized debut novel, readers follow the hopeless lives of people living in a multicultural ghetto in contemporary London. The story centers on two young people who manage to survive the violence and poverty and, by the end of the novel, begin a friendship. Meina is a young woman from Somalia whose parents were tortured and murdered in front of her when she was a child. James, the youngest son in a family of five drug-dealing brothers, is the constant target of bullying and intimidation. Akinti brings to pulsing life this terrifying world where conditions are so bad that they can produce human beings who are capable of anything. He unflinchingly depicts unspeakable acts of violence and violation. VERDICT The author is drawing from personal experience, and he has produced a novel of striking power and relevance. An important book—fierce, passionate; for readers who seek out stories of life on the bleeding edge.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
Kirkus Reviews
A disturbing debut exposes the hopelessness of black teenagers trapped in a grim East London neighborhood. Forest Gate is a tough area, especially for young men dealing with racism, gangs, drug dealings, police harassment and rock-bottom expectations. Best friends James and Ashvin, "tormented boys with troubled hearts," and Ash's sister Meina are the protagonists. Ash and Meina were orphaned during the Somali civil war, their parents murdered before Ash's eyes. James' father and brothers are drug dealers, but he is desperate to escape the unendurable limitations of his circumstances. As the novel opens, Ash and James jump from separate rooftops at a high-rise block of council flats in a suicide pact. James survives, and the story pulls back to explore the circumstances of the young men's pain and the different legacies of violence they have experienced. Meina too has known suffering, forced into multiple marriages back in Africa. Now she and James find comfort in each other, but their trials are not over. The author, who grew up in Forest Gate himself, captures the pungent atmosphere of grim urban landscapes (and some extreme violence) in graphic, sensuous language. Akinti's politics are angry yet coolly articulated. The only disappointment here is his plotting, ragged and increasingly implausible. Sometimes sketchy and preachy, nevertheless notably passionate and gritty.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439172179
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 2/2/2010
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 210
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Akinti was a seventies child, born of Nigerian ancestry, in London. He read Law at a London University. He has written for the Guardian, and worked for four years at HM Treasury Chambers before founding and editing Untold Magazine for five years. Untold was the first independent British magazine for black men and had a wealth of gifted contributors from all over the diaspora. Peter spent eighteen months in Nigeria, running a restaurant, beer parlour and cinema in Ondo Town, Southwest Nigeria. He currently lives in Brooklyn. Forest Gate is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012


    Piece of TURD

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Immigrants in Britain

    Peter Akinti is a native of Nigeria who grew up in a poverty stricken neighborhood of London. He paints a harrowing portrait here of life in the neighborhood of his youth, describing what it feels like to be young, poor and black in today's Britain.
    The story begins with two teenage boys who are best friends attempting suicide together. Ashvin, an immigrant from war-torn Somalia succeeds, but James survives. Then James and Ashvin's sister Meina take up together. She asks him to live with her in the apartment she shared with her brother. He is happy to get away from his drug dealing brothers and crack addict mother. The story is told from several points of view, primarily Meina's and James's. Akiniti succeeds in getting the reader to really feel w'hat it is like to live a life of desperation and despair.
    You will also be shocked by the descriptions of the life that Ashvin and Meina fled in Somalia, where their parents were murdered by Ethiopian soldiers, and Meina was then sold off as a bride to a series of men by her Aunt.

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  • Posted April 13, 2010

    Shattering novel of hope amidst despair

    Forest Gate by Peter Akinti is a shattering look at life as a Somali refugee in London. James and Meina struggle to find a new life after the suicide of her brother, his best friend. The young men had made a pact, but when James' rope didn't snap his neck, he realized that life was worth fighting for, and he survived. The two recreate the days leading up to the tragedy as they slowly fall in love. Meina is a strong young woman who has already been "married" six times by her greedy aunt before she was rescued and brought to London. James faces unimaginable humiliation and horror in his life. Too smart to fit in with his drug dealing brothers, and always at risk of attack by the police or rival gangs, he's been forced to disengage from day to day life. This dark tale is almost unreadable at times for the stark horror it portrays, but the message of hope is powerful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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