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Greetings From Bury Park    by Sarfraz Manzoor order for
Greetings From Bury Park
by Sarfraz Manzoor
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

One of the four London airports is in Luton, a place that became notorious in the summer of 2005, when young Pakistani Brits blew themselves up in the subway. In 1974, though, the Bury Park neighborhood of Luton became the new home of the Manzoor family, after the father of the family, Mohammed, brought his wife and three young children from Pakistan to join him there. Sarfraz, the youngest immigrant, was three years old. There would be one more child born in England, a sister, completing the family of two boys and two girls.

Bury Park was a home away from home for a large community of Pakistanis who were looking for a better life with more opportunities for their children. In Greetings from Bury Park, Sarfraz tells about his and his family's experiences, how they adjusted to the very different culture in England, and particularly how he became assimilated.

Sarfraz's father was an extremely ambitious man who wanted his children to have the best possible education. At the same time, he was fearful that they would become polluted by the influences of their new country. So much of British society seemed immoral to him, and for a long time television and movies were forbidden. The family all seemed to work and everyone gave all of the earnings to the father. Sarfraz later learned that much of this money had been sent back to Pakistan to needy relatives, but the family owned their own home and, while frugal, did not go without necessities.

Since the schools in Bury Park were filled with the Asian children who lived in the neighborhood, Mr. Manzoor sent his children to a better high school where the children were mostly white. Ironically, this meant that Sarfraz made friends with the very white children who would influence him away from his Pakistani heritage and make him more British, just what his father feared. He did have one Asian friend as a teenager, though, who was Sikh and, more importantly, a rabid Bruce Springsteen fan. Sarfraz became Saf in high school, and with the encouragement of his Sikh friend, a Springsteen fan as well.

Saf travels all over the world to Springsteen concerts and is appalled when 9/11 seems to close off American concerts to him. After a year, however, he buys a ticket to a concert in New Jersey and waits in line at immigration at JFK, afraid that he will be arrested as a terrorism suspect. The official who checks his passport, though, is delighted that the purpose of his trip is to attend a Springsteen concert and passes him through with good wishes to enjoy the concert.

Saf tells his story with grace and humor. When asked by white classmates what a Muslim believes, for instance, he simply says that as a Muslim he doesn't drink or have a girlfriend. His escapades and attempts to escape the rigid discipline at home are frequently amusing. I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into the life of a Pakistani immigrant family in England. Sarfraz Manzoor introduced me to the music of Springsteen and into a fascinating world. I found Greetings From Bury Park a hopeful account of immigration and what it can mean for all of us.

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