Deeply funny, moving, idiosyncratic and unforgettable, Pigeon English introduces a major new literary talent
Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers - the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen - blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him.
With equal fascination for the local gang - the Dell Farm Crew - and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of inner-city survival.
But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.
‘Simultaneously accurate and fantastical, this boy’s love letter to the world made me laugh and tremble all the way through. Pigeon English is a triumph’ Emma Donoghue, author of Room
‘A powerful and impressive novel ... Kelman knows the world of boys – their language, their humour, their thoughts – and Harri’s voice is dazzlingly authentic. Utterly convincing and deeply moving, this is a book that we should all read’ Clare Morrall, author of The Man Who Disappeared
‘Pigeon English is a book to fall in love with: a funny book, a true book, a shattering book … If you loved Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or Emma Donoghue’s Man Booker-shortlisted Room, you’ll love this book too’ Erica Wagner, The Times
‘'Filled with energy, humour and compassion, Pigeon English is a gut-wrenchingly sad novel that makes you laugh out loud … One of the hardest things in fiction is to write from a child’s point of view – Kelman does it brilliantly’ Alex Clark, Guardian
‘The humour, the resilience, the sheer ebullience of its narrator - a hero for our times - should ensure the book becomes, deservedly, a classic.' Mail on Sunday
'Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman, has its Booker potential written all over it … This incredible and poignant tale about the mess that is humanity will ring inside your brain long after you have read its final pages.' Sunday Tasmanian
'That is the intrinsic appeal of Harri, you don’t see him coming. He worms his way into your affections and leaves you breathless at the end when he is gone. Pigeon English is a mesmerising tale of naïveté and discovery that has us rooting on the sidelines, hoping that Harri will triumph.' Gina Roitman, author of Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth
About The Author
Stephen Kelman was born in Luton in 1976. After finishing his degree he worked variously as a warehouse operative, a careworker, and in marketing and local government administration. He decided to pursue his writing seriously in 2005, and has completed several feature screenplays since then. Pigeon English is his first novel.
Stephen Kelman's debut novel Pigeon English was the subject of a twelve publisher bidding war. At the centre of the tale is Harri Opoku, an 11-year-old Ghanaian immigrant caught up in gang warfare on a south London estate.
Pigeon English opens as Harri has just moved to the Dell Farm estate with his mother and older sister, Lydia, leaving his father, grandmother and baby sister, Agnes, behind in Ghana. Along with the shock of emigration and the usual preoccupations of growing up - whether lovely blonde Poppy Morgan will sit next to him in art class, whether his Diadora trainers can outrun his classmates' Nike Air Max - he must negotiate tougher problems. Harri's surroundings bristle with half-understood menace, most obviously from the alcoholics, dealers, petty criminals and teenage members of the Dell Farm Crew gang who shadow the estate. But gradually his sister, aunt and even his mother, forced into moral compromise in her struggle to give her children a better life, are implicated in the violence that pervades estate life.
Pigeon English, which draws heavily on the killing of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor on a Peckham estate in 2000, weaves this suffering into a murder-mystery of sorts. After the seemingly random stabbing of an older boy outside a fried chicken shop, Harri and his friend Dean turn amateur detectives, scrutinising the estate and its dysfunctional inhabitants for clues.
Go here for Kelman's answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions.
'Simultaneously accurate and fantastical, this boy's love letter to the world made me laugh and tremble all the way through. Pigeon English is a triumph' Emma Donoghue, author of Room 'A powerful and impressive novel ... Kelman knows the world of boys - their language, their humour, their thoughts - and Harri's voice is dazzlingly authentic. Utterly convincing and deeply moving, this is a book that we should all read' Clare Morrall, author of The Man Who Disappeared 'Pigeon English is a book to fall in love with: a funny book, a true book, a shattering book ... If you loved Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or Emma Donoghue's Man Booker-shortlisted Room, you'll love this book too' Erica Wagner, The Times 'One of the hardest things in fiction is to write from a child's point of view - Kelman does it brilliantly' Alex Clark, Guardian
Number Of Pages: 288
Published: 7th March 2011
Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.3 x 2.9
Weight (kg): 0.397