Hidden history

<strong>If You Don't Know Me By Now</strong>

Sathnam Sanghera <em>Viking, 336pp, £16.99</em>

Sathnam Sanghera's childhood in 1970s Wolverhampton was a happy one. He grew up in a large Punjabi family and his formative years, though overshadowed by tradition – the pressure to marry a Sikh girl and land a suitable, preferably medically oriented career – were uneventful.

At the age of 24, Sanghera discovers that his docile, taciturn father is a schizophrenic. He also learns that his father was quite shockingly violent towards his mother during the early months of their marriage.

It takes Sanghera a further few years to deal with the full implications of this discovery and to begin, with journalistic thoroughness, an investigation of his family's past, deciphering piece by piece the various, hazy accounts of his father's breakdown.

Although the book begins as a conventional memoir, charting his unhealthy adolescent obsession with George Michael, his first haircut at the hands of an Indian barber and the curious double-life that comes with being the child of non-English-speaking immigrants, it evolves into something far more insightful.

Instead of simply telling his parents' story, Sanghera charts the various emotional processes involved in its telling. It digs into some dark areas, but this is a hugely enjoyable book.

This article first appeared in the 31 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Is Boris a fake?