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Book review: Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman

By Whitney Matusiak

Author Stephen Kelman grips readers and deftly conjures compassion withpigeon-english-stephen-kelman the use of a culturally and socially magnetic dialect in his debut novel Pigeon English (2011).

Set in a rough London estate, Pigeon English is a modern-day coming-of-age tale with dark leanings centring on the gang-related death of a young boy. With childlike but remarkably poignant humour and honesty, Ghanaian-born Harri investigates the murder with his best friend Dean. With hints of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Miriam Toews’ The Flying Troutmans, readers are engaged in thought-provoking social questions, and Harri’s boundless curiosity and sympathy give way to a tale that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

The success of Pigeon English is undoubtedly a result of Kelman’s extraordinarily imaginative and realistic characters. Kelman takes a literary risk, using a lot of informal language, and the title of the novel evokes this language play. Kelman brilliantly uses interjections of West African Pidgin English, or Guinea Coast Creole English, to breathe life into Harri and the supporting characters. (more…)