Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla

I am a married, white female, more into Indie rather than Hip Hop in my youth, so according to the law of averages/preconceptions, I shouldn’t have enjoyed Coconut Unlimited at all but, contrary as ever, it ended up as one of my favourite reads in November.  This is one of the joys of receiving a wide variety of novels to review – many thanks to Quartet Books for sending this gem my way.

Our narrator, Amit, is a bit of a misfit, an Asian youth on whose narrow shoulders are placed the weighty expectations of his ambitious parents.  He attends an almost exclusively white private school in Harrow where he and his pals, Anand and Nishant are subjected to daily tirades of racial abuse from both pupils and teachers.  They’re equally estranged from the local Asian community and are dubbed “coconuts” – brown on the outside but white on the inside.  The boys decide to adopt a completely different approach, neither white not Asian, worshipping instead at the shrine of Hip Hop – a route which is somewhat encumbered by the fact that they don’t actually know of that many Hip Hop artists and are reduced to swiping old cassettes from relatives to record from the elusive vinyl. 

Amit’s mother would much prefer that he bought a nice, sensible pair of jeans from C&A (cringe..) rather than the ludicrously baggy hip hop style – cue memories of my own dear mother despairing of my teenage penchant for black clothing, black eyes and gravity defying hairstyles held together with cheap gel and occasionally a sugar and water mixture…

Nikesh Shukla is an author, film maker and performance poet and you can feel his energy in the rhythmic pace of this coming of age tale – I would love to hear him reading aloud from this novel with its insistent beat and Asian influences which combine to create a nostalgic, enthusiastic record of teenage angst and aspirations.  You won’t be able to resist smiling (wryly perhaps..) as you are reminded of the exhuberance of youth, the fashion faux pas, that teenage intensity and the conflict of one minute thinking you’re going to conquer the world and the next, being overwhelmed with self-doubt.  I loved this debut novel which is a very strong contender for the Costa First Novel Award – off to listen to my tapes now… ;-)

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4 Comments

  1. Robbie says:

    You know Teresa, I had read someone else’s review on this previously and they had made it sound very much like something I didn’t want to read. You, however, seem to have sold me on it. Funny how that happens ;)

  2. admin says:

    I’d love to see that other review, Robbie, would you please send me a link? I think anyone who wanted to be bit different in their youth would identify with this novel – I think I might very well rediscover my Indie roots… (well as much as middle aged mummy of two can do!!)

  3. Sazzy says:

    Aaah…..C&A………….!

  4. admin says:

    I think I saw one of those “rare” C&A establishments in Palma when we were on holidays – looked much more sophisticated than I remember it!

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