Philobiblon: The fates of London

Monday, December 26, 2005

The fates of London

London has always been a city of incomers. In medieval and early modern times, "foreigners" were people who came from a different county, and Londoners mainly were foreigners. With its birth rate less than its death rate, the city needed, and still needs, new blood coming in all of the time to keep it going, let alone growing.

I'm one such incomer, but count my blessings in that I came into the city with professional skills, a bit of capital, and a few friends to start a support network. Many others start with far less.

This week's Time Out continues the story of a 23-year-old Pole who arrived in London from a small, poor village, not speaking English. Wiola Andrzejewska started working in a factory without proper employment conditions, was sacked without notice, but gradually developed a network of cleaning and babysitting jobs. Going back to her home town - flying for the first time (having arrived by bus!), wearing London fashions and comparing her achievements to those of her peers who stayed at home, she realises that she has come a long way.

For others, however, London is not a place of upward mobility. That's the case with Najwa, the central character in Leila Aboulela's novel Minaret. She arrives as an asylum-seeker, but one who, at first glance, has all of the resources necessary to make a success of her life in the city. Her family has money - rather a lot of money - which is what got them into trouble in their native Sudan in the first place, with her father held and then executed for corruption after a coup. She has at least part of a university education, excellent English from a private school education in Khartoum, and a network of helpful relatives - everything, it seems to succeed. READ MORE

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