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‘China Room’: Two narrative threads seven decades apart weave this intersectional story of inequity


Like an unfamiliar song that reminds you of forgotten stories, Sunjeev Sahota’s new novel, China Room, claims attention, demands absorption. To anyone familiar with Sahota’s fiction, it comes as no surprise that the book has made its way to the Booker Prize 2021 longlist. This is Sahota’s second nomination for the award, after his remarkable The Year of the Runaways in 2015.

The last book, six years ago, tackled the difficult subject of illegal immigration with great empathy. Set in Sheffield, England, the book traced the story of four characters, starkly different from each other, forced into the same hostile universe. Never veering into sentimentality, it coerced the reader into witnessing the debilitating intersections of class and caste and gender.

There is a social consciousnesses in Sahota’s writing that keeps him from slipping into the sort of self-indulgence that plagues much of contemporary, self-conscious “literary fiction”. This same social consciousness, an awareness of inequities, an almost atavistic acceptance of defeat informs the intriguingly titled China Room.

Inside the china room

You couldn’t not have asked that question. What is the China Room? The book introduces it early enough in the narrative. It is, in a display of almost disappointing commonplaceness, a room that is kitchen, bedroom, as well as single-shelf armoire for…

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