Friday 28 August 2015

Pyschoraag by Suhayl Saadi

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: Let me first say, this is not the sort of book you take to the beach to relax. If you pick this up when you’re in that sort of mood, you’ll throw it aside and probably never pick it up again, which would be a shame.

Like Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, Psychoraag is written in broad Glaswegian dialect, but on top of that, it is peppered with expressions in Urdu, Arabic, Punjabi and even Gaelic. Sometimes, with a book like that, you can glide over the words in another language, picking up the gist as you go along. But not here. Sometimes the author gives you a helping hand – as when he takes an easily recognisable expression and changes just one word [‘she would follow him even unto the gates of jahannam’]. Other times, he plays with the sound of words, juxtaposing an English word with an almost-homonym in Urdu and teasing the reader with their different meaning [‘Quaitch dreams. Jaams. Jams.’]). But most of the time, you will find yourself flicking back and forth to the extensive glossary, just to make sure you are not missing one ounce of the nuance Saadi is conveying.

The book all takes place in the course of one evening. It is the last night of broadcasting for an Asian radio station in Glasgow. For three months, Zaf has been filling the graveyard shift, from midnight to six am, with his Junnune (Madness) Show and this is his last broadcast. Downstairs there is a wrap party going on, but Zaf is alone in his little cubicle. We get to hear his playlist (from the Beatles to Asian Dub Foundation to rare early recordings from Hindi films), what he says to his listeners, and everything that goes through his head.

Zaf’s thoughts range over the changing nature of the South Asian community who are his audience, his parents’ long journey from Pakistan to Glasgow, his sometimes rocky relationship with his girlfriend Babs, and his even rockier relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Zilla, whom he may or may not have started on a path that led to drug-addiction and prostitution.

As the long night wears on, it becomes harder and harder to work out what is really happening and what is the product of Zaf’s exhausted brain. Does Zilla really turn up at the studio? Does she inject him with drugs? And does Zafar the gangster exist, or is he just another aspect of Zaf himself?

An exhausting, fascinating, thought-provoking book. Not for the faint-hearted but for those willing to take on the challenge, definitely worth it.

You'll enjoy this if you liked: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

Avoid if you dislike: Language heavily layered with dialect and expressions on other languages; surreal, dreamlike narratives

Perfect Accompaniment: A pint of heavy and a wee dram

Genre:  Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

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