My Beautiful England by Michelle Flatley
Today’s review is brought to you by my dad, Colin.
Colin is a lecturer who has just started to get back into reading for pleasure after years of textbooks knocked the enjoyment out of discovering the wonderful written word.
He is currently enjoying the ecliptic collection of books his daughter has stored around the house.
Su, a Thai bride, comes to England, after the tsunami, armed with a book called ‘My Beautiful England’. But she finds herself in Burnley, a deprived northern town where torn sofas are parked in the gardens of boarded up houses. Living with her ageing husband, Su tries to become Englishised, but constant visions of the tsunami and Thai superstitions clash with English life. Whilst out shopping for mango, Su suffers racial abuse and realises England is not the dream place she had hoped for.
Samina is from Pakistan and feels trapped in an arranged marriage. Living with her new husband and domineering mother-in-law, in Paradise Street, she longs to be like other western women, independent and free. When Samina joins the local language school, she begins to wear western clothes and calls herself Sammy but soon realises that she is neither English, nor Pakistani.
Lenka lives in a women s refuge with her daughter, hiding from her Polish husband.
Together the three women build a strong friendship at the local language centre. United in their quest for English all three women discover what it’s like to be a foreigner in England.
Imagine you have arrived in a foreign land, not just any land but one you’re convinced will change your life for the better. One where regardless of your gender, will allow you to prosper and be free and respected.
Now imagine how you would feel if the promised land that was supposed to be the land of milk and honey turned out to be something completely different.
‘My Beautiful England’ gives the reader an opportunity to look inside the lives of three migrant women who have migrated to the land where dreams come true, that land of course is England.
We only glimpse a sniffle of their experiences within the promised land.
And we do this by following Su, a Tai bride who arrives in England after the Tsunami, Samina, a young woman from Pakistan, who came for an arranged marriage and Lenka who arrives full of hope from her home country of Poland, but now lives in a refuge, terrified that her brutal partner may find out where she and her daughter Anna are hiding and finally come to kill her.
What draws these women together, what makes them bond? What on earth do they they see in each other? So many questions that I wanted to know the answer to.
This story is tragic, it is sad and at times you wished that all stories would have happy endings, but we all know life is not like this.
These women have moved thousand of miles but the reality is they haven’t travelled a single step, they are anchored in their own culture, whilst surrounded by new scenery.
Despite being in a new land, they are restricted by family, faith and beliefs and this baggage inevitably holds them back.
The three meet at college compelled to study English and Citizenship. With this knowledge they believe that life and their particular position within the community will be vastly improved.
This book had great stories to tell and it does so very well, we can engage with the three main characters and we become concerned and indeed frightened by the events that unfold.
However for me, the core of this book is the naive faith that England is in indeed the promised land and yet the reality is, that it cannot deliver on any of its promises.
This book deserves a second reading because there is so much I missed first time round.
The writer talks about the unspoken language women seem to have, this enables women from all nations to communicate without a common spoken language. The author suggests that women have a unique way of communicating with each other using gestures and helpful actions. One could argue that women of the world share a common bond and for many, belonging to Earths sisterhood is all the language they really need.
As a man I enjoyed this book, the story is good and challenges the readers perception of migrant families in general and migrant women in particular.
But for me, the underlying message is that migrant women still see England as the promised land and believe their lives will be improved just by being here, the reality is that the promised land does not exist and it is how they cope with this massive disappointment that is at the core of this book, I couldn’t help thinking about the saying attributed to Marshall Berman ‘All that is solid melts into air’
How do you manage when all your dreams and hopes are based on the belief that England will enable you to achieve them all, come crashing down because the England in your minds eye doesn’t really exist!
This book inspires the reader to view migrant women through different eyes. I’ve always understood those who migrate for economic reasons and those who are fleeing conflict and persecution.
However there are women who arrive in England with an idealistic view of it being in a promised land.
A land that is filled of opportunities and a place where they will thrive and prosper, the reality is far from this and it is how these migrant women deal with this disappointment which is a true measure of how well they will settle.
You have to admire and be inspired by the strength of character demonstrated by successive influxes of migrant women seeking the land of milk and honey!