March 24, 2008

Book Review: Greetings From Bury Park

Born in Pakistan and raised in England, Sarfraz Manzoor grew up in a state of discontent, invariably torn between the contradictions of his heritage and his personal ambition. When a college friend introduced him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Manzoor considered it a revelation, one that would serve as self-affirmation and inspiration in an environment that seldom encouraged either.

Given what could have comprised an impressive memoir, though, Greetings From Bury Park suffers from a fragmented narrative and flawed thematic development.

Manzoor renders the chapters more or less thematically rather than chronologically, which accounts for much of the book's inconsistency. Moreover, though, the writer doesn't support his assertion of how Springsteen's music bolstered his desire to define his identity and sense of purpose.

The basics of the account, at any rate, suggest a potentially compelling story with cultural enlightenment. As a toddler, Manzoor emigrated from his native Pakistan to the Luton, England neighborhood of Bury Park along with his mother and siblings. His father, having already moved to England eleven years prior to earn enough income to prepare for and provide an eventual home, awaited their arrival.

In the setting of contemporary British society, Manzoor was indoctrinated by his parents to abide by the tenets of his Pakistani heritage and Muslim faith. He learned that cultural obligations and expectations usurped personal preference, and that honoring one's family trumped all other secular values.

As adolescence set in and the free will of adulthood beckoned, however, Manzoor writes that he began to question his allegiance to the mores of Pakistan—a country in which he neither resided nor felt any direct bond toward—as well as his adhering to principles he didn't altogether comprehend or necessarily espouse. He clashed often with his traditionalist father over matters as significant as marriage and ones as comparably inconsequential as attending a rock concert.

It's within the context of these formative circumstances that Manzoor declares, yet fails to establish the book's purported central theme: how his fervent appreciation for Bruce Springsteen's music influenced the perceptions he harbored of his culture and his very identity. He writes that, after listening to a friend's cassette of Springsteen's songs, he immediately felt connected with and enlivened by the musician's work.

Unfortunately, he doesn't underscore this resonance with sufficient insight, instead supplying facts—such as his collecting of bootlegs and his eventual attending of Springsteen concerts—while making scarce mention of why this music by this artist meant so much to him in the first place. While Sarfraz Manzoor need not reenact some specific epiphany or offer a grand testimonial to substantiate his affinity for Bruce Springsteen's music, not explaining how or why he identified with it inevitably relegates the book's alleged premise to a mere incidental distinction.

Greetings From Bury Park contains the elements of a great story that could have assimilated cultural perspective with the power of rock and roll, but its exposition ultimately lacks continuity and breadth.