October 16, 2009 / 4:34 PM / 9 years ago

"Brick Lane" author is back in an ethnic kitchen

FRANKFURT (Reuters Life!) - Brick Lane author Monica Ali, undeterred by charges of ethnic misrepresentation against her best-selling debut, laid out yet another multi-ethnic tangle for her latest work “In The Kitchen.”

Novelist Monica Ali holds up her book 'Brick Lane' in London, October 14, 2003. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

The author, who faced accusations of giving London’s Bangladeshi community and particularly people from the Sylhet region, a bad name in her 2003 novel Brick Lane, said that thoughts of potential controversy have no place in a writer’s mind.

“You have to try and write with the door closed,” she said on the sidelines of the Frankfurt book fair, which she attended as part of a promotion tour for In The Kitchen.

“There is no point in writing if you fear that perhaps someone is looking over your shoulder,” she added.

Ali, born in Bangladesh to British-Bangladeshi parents, but brought up near Manchester, played down the row over Brick Lane, which saw literary critic Germaine Greer slate the work and prompted author Salman Rushdie to launch a scathing attack on Greer in defense of Ali’s book.

Discontent against the book culminated in a gathering of protesters during the 2006 shooting of the film adaptation in the east London street famous for its curry houses.

“It was really a media generated sort of fluff. On the day (of the protests) there were more journalists there than demonstrators,” Ali remembered.

Even though In The Kitchen centres on a Briton — a London Hotel chef plunged into crisis by the death of one of his employees — it involves a kitchen staff from Ukraine, Belarus, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan among others and is at one point dubbed the “United Nations task force.”

Debates over immigration and cultural adaptation, even heated ones, should not be skirted, Ali said.

“Of course you’re going to have cultural sensitivity but it has become problematic in terms of who is allowed to speak,” she said. “Whether it’s the right statement or the wrong statement, it’s good to have the social debate.”

Ali would not be drawn on contentious questions such as who and what needs to change in Western societies to overcome ethnic rifts.

“I feel that fiction is very good for exploring the complexity, which in two or three words you can’t really do justice to.”

Her main intention though, remains to deliver an entertaining read.

“I write ... to tell a good story and, along the way, I let my interest come out in one form or another, exploring issues like immigration, globalization and cultural adaptation,” Ali said.

Protest rallies at the set of the Brick Lane shooting notwithstanding, Ali has kept her taste for seeing her work be made into a film.

“Nothing has been settled yet...I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

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