Thursday 10 March 2022

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

The protagonist of Natasha Brown’s Assembly is, to all outward appearances, a success story. Despite her background, despite the colour of her skin, she has ‘made it’. She has a good degree from a prestigious university, a well-paid high-flying job, a relationship with the kind of man who gives her entrée into British society. She is invited to give talks to young women in schools, to inspire them:

The diversity must be seen. How many young woman and girls have I lied to? How many have seen my grinning face advocating for this or that firm, or this industry, or that university, this life?

But what no one else knows is that she has just received a cancer diagnosis. A cancer that will, without treatment, inevitably kill her. A treatment that she has decided to refuse.

Through the weave of the narrative, the cancer becomes a metaphor for racism, her refusal of treatment a refusal of complicity. A refusal to accept ‘diversity’ and ‘tokenism’ as a sticking plaster in place of rooting out racism and inequality.

Surviving makes me a participant in their narrative. Succeed or fail, my existence only reinforces this construct. I reject it. I reject these options. I reject this life. Yes, I understand the pain. The pain is transformational – transcendent – the undoing of construction. A return, mercifully, to dust.

Brown takes aim at the smug liberality that congratulates itself for the success of a few Black faces while at the same time:

We have seen now, just as then, the readiness of this government and its enterprising Home Secretary to destroy paper, our records and proof. What is citizenship when you’ve watched screaming Go home vans crawl your street? […] When British, reduced to paper, is swept aside and trodden over?

Assembly is short, slim even for a novella. But Brown’s excoriating prose punches well above its slender weight.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy; That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu;

Avoid If You Dislike: Fragmented narratives

Perfect Accompaniment: Tea and toast

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy This Book Here

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