London, Dec. 4: The writer Monica Ali was accused yesterday of “shamefully and despicably” distorting life in the Bangladeshi community in London’s East End that inspired her best-selling first novel Brick Lane.
The Greater Sylhet Welfare and Development Council, which says it represents thousands of Bangladeshis in Britain, demanded cuts in it. It also sent an 18-page letter of protest to The Guardian, which shortlisted the novel for a £10,000 award.
A spokesperson for the council said: “We have serious objections to most of the content of this book, which is a despicable insult to Bangladeshis at home and abroad. It says we got here by jumping ship, have lice in our hair and live like rats. These comments are hurtful and untrue.”
Kalam Mahmud Abu Taher Choudhury, the leader of the protesters, said a “team of intellectuals” had gone through the novel twice and drawn up a list of offending lines they wanted excised.
A copy of the letter was also sent to the panel of the Booker Prize, which 35-year-old Ali did not win. The protesters admitted that they “celebrated” that result and said they were hoping that Ali would also fail to win the Guardian First award.
The passage that has caused most offence involves the central male character, Chanu. He says: “Most of our people here are Sylhetis. They know each other from the villages and they come to Tower Hamlets and they think they are back in the village. Most of them have jumped ship...They have menial jobs on the ship, doing donkey work, or they stow away like little rats in the hold.”
Larry Finlay, managing director of Transworld, the holding company for Ali’s publisher, Doubleday, said: “Chanu is a pompous, bigoted man. We should not confuse Monica Ali’s views with the views of this character.”
Choudhury said he feared that many white readers would fail to make that distinction.