Unlike most people (at least so I’m told), what I read is often influenced by who the publisher is. Needless to say when indie publisher Quartet Books agreed to send me a complimentary copy of Coconut Unlimited for ran$om note, I was not only delighted but secretly convinced that I would enjoy it. Why? I’m not entirely sure myself but for time’s sake let’s just call it an antidote to the truism that is ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’.
Anyways. Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla, is a coming of age story following the journey of Amit and his two best friends, Anand and Nishant, through teenage life. Set in Harrow in the 1990’s the novel explores cultural clashes and racial tensions bubbling under the surface of suburban life, the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, and the power of friendship and music.
Amit is the hapless, hip-hop obsessed teenage protagonist whose story centres on his struggles to fit in to an all-white private school and Southall’s Asian community. Inspired by his cousin, Neel, Amit forms a hip-hop band called Coconut Unlimited (‘White on the inside, brown on the outside … like coconuts!’) to be pretty cool, get girls and escape everyday life. Coconut Unlimited soon becomes Amit’s life, a fantasy of fame and success.
Amit’s journey is one of self-discovery. He is introduced to the reader as possessing a kind of innocent ignorance, caught in limbo between youth and young manhood. He is shy, insecure and ‘torn between wanting to do well for my parents, and wanting to be either accepted or comfortably ignored by my peers’. In other words he is like every other teenager that finds himself in a slightly alien and hostile environment, and whilst some turn to drugs, submerge themselves in their studies, turn to sports or whatever the case may be, Amit turns to music.
Coconut Unlimited tackles themes of racism head on, but through Shukla’s prose these potentially heavy and difficult subjects never impose themselves on the reader; he manages that difficult feat of capturing the voice of his 14-year-old main character perfectly. The language is both rich in that it manages to portray Amit’s personal and cultural struggles, but also subtle as it always retains its playfulness and isn’t overbearing. Shukla’s lyrical colloquialism is wonderfully tender and drives the novel along.
Coconut Unlimited is an accomplished novel. Think Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia meets Black Swan Green, a bildungsroman that is diligent and detailed in its assessment of what it means to be Asian and growing up in England. It is extremely funny and frequently profound dealing with a myriad of themes including racism, friendship, family expectations, music, cultural values and so much more. The best way to sum up this classy debut? In Amit’s own words: ‘smooth, energetic and sweet.’
First posted on The Ran$om Note which covers everything from cutting edge music reviews to dog walking blogs, art, culture and new world musings.