Thursday, December 8, 2016

[Book Review] 33 Ermine Street

33 Ermine Street
Harvey Lincoln
Young-Adult, Contemporary Fiction


33 Ermine Street is an ordinary account of an extraordinary courage of a British immigrant of Chinese descent. 

Story-wise, the beginning was somewhat dull. Shen, the protagonist, is as every bit as ordinary. I didn't find myself connecting with him within the first few chapters of the story because he seemed a little too sheltered. Sure, he's had brushes with unpleasant people, but he was mostly raised within the confines of the protective bubble of his parents. 

When the traumatic experience happened, it was only then that I understood why Shen was portrayed as a sheltered young man. Had the incident happened to a more experienced young man, he would not have been affected as much as Shen was. I think it would be safe to say that the incident at the bus was a catalyst for Shen's growth.

Character-wise, I really liked Sandeep and Alfred, because I thought they were the most distinct ones even though they were merely side characters. Malik comes close because of his developed background. 

It was also interesting to read a Filipino character being portrayed in a novel by a foreign writer. The names are too much though, in my opinion. The name Amihan is classically Filipino, but I draw the line at the name Bayani. 

If you ever meet immigrants of Filipino descent, or any Filipino for that matter, you'll know that they don't usually name their children obvious Filipino names. The most common male names in the Philippines, quite surprisingly, include John and Michael (which are not very Filipino-sounding).

The writing is raw at best, but for a debut novel, it's a decent one. The thought that kept occurring to me while reading this story is this: "Show. Don't tell." (May I suggest checking out this LINK to better understand what I mean.) 

My problem with the way the narrative is written is that everything was 'told' by the omniscient speaker. And if isn't given away by the narrator, it is conveyed through dialogue, which somehow, seems blocky and unnatural. The narrative also sounded too formal, and with very little distinction from the different characters.

All in all, I think this is a decent debut novel. I give it 3 stars because of Sandeep's wisdom, Alfred's change of heart, and Shen's courage.

“Religion is a human invention – love isn’t. It lives inside every person, no matter who they are, or what they do or do not believe in. Love is the only thing a person truly needs to believe in to receive love in return." 
Being an only child growing up in a Chinese immigrant family, Shen lives a relatively quiet and sheltered life in comparison to most other British teenagers. His parents, who ended up running a small Chinese restaurant, work tirelessly to make sure their only child is given the opportunities that they missed out on in life. 
It's a day like any other, when Shen becomes witness to a traumatic incident on his usual route to school. From that moment on, his peaceful and uneventful teenage life takes a drastic turn as he struggles to cope with the grim memories of that fateful morning. 
Shen embarks on a very personal journey in an attempt to understand what happened. In the weeks and months that follow, he finds himself hurled into a turbulent world driven by fear, prejudice and social injustice. 
33 Ermine Street is a touching yet confronting novel, set against the backdrop of a heavily polarized Britain.

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