Review: Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

Posted on Feb 28 2018 - 9:00am by Claire Herbaux

Brit(ish) is about a search for identity. It is about the everyday racism that plagues British society. It is about our awkward, troubled relationship with our history.

Afua Hirsch herself had experienced racism in her life and in her search for her own identity and writes about it in her book – or so I thought.

Many people will come to this book thinking of their own experience with identity; I did. I read the first lines about being asked where you are from and it resonated. People who know me for a year still don’t really get it. In Germany I was “the French”, in France I am “the German”. Just yesterday, I went to see family and they said I was visiting from England, but I was “actually German”. They are my family, we are related, my blood is obviously French! I know they call me German because it is the trait that makes me unique, but I don’t like it. Mainly because to me I am French, who just happened to grow up in Germany and therefore know the language and have some of the traditions and have friends there (just like I do with Britain, yet I am not British).

The book starts out as an autobiography, a personal look at what origins, DNA and heritage means.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes an essay on the history of racism in the UK and an analysis of British society. Hirsch does her research, there is no doubt about it. The eight chapters have notes and it feels like a dissertation.

Looking for a personal journey about belonging, I was a little disappointed.

That said, buried in the research she makes some interesting points on history and modern day Britain. Had I known it was more of a non-fiction history book, I would have gone into it with a different mind frame.

So here is my note to you: This book is a great start to a discussion about race and identity. It brings in a mix of research which are interesting and will spark debate.

BRIT(ish) by Afua Hirsch is available with Penguin for £16.99

Editor thoughts:

There’s no question that this is a thought provoking read. Afua’s own experience reveals there is significant repression in British history that for individuals, like Afua, makes it difficult to come to terms with who you are when you struggle to find out where you’re from. Our rich history is actually quite selective as Afua rightly highlights. Although Afua is Brit(ish) her very core is so much greater than that, as it is for many Brits. At times it is hard to comprehend what she is saying but stick with it. It’s insightful, intriguing and will undoubtedly broaden your mind.

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