I am not a Londoner, I grew up in a small country town, an hour away from the big smoke, but I have always been fascinated by the complexities of the city. Thus, as an outsider who has a tendency to visualize London through tinted glass, This is London: Life and Death in the World City, was a deeply eye opening read.
Published in 2016, This is London was written by journalist Ben Judah and shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize. Published prior to the Brexit Referendum of June 2016, Judah evokes the growing diversity of London and the tensions that have arisen in the wake of divisive Brexit rhetoric. He forms close relations with a number of interviewed individuals and even embarks on a few nights of rough sleeping to get inside the shoes of some of London’s most deprived.
It is now 2019 and homelessness and rough sleeping is ever on the rise with the brunt of austerity cuts hitting hard and Brexit negotiations still dominating the agenda. Social care has been ignored for years and the problems Judah was writing about in 2015 and 2016, now seem all too prominent.
Orwellian in style and remarkably comparable to Down and Out in Paris and London, This is London, is written by a journalist keen to really understand and present the scale of social depravity experienced throughout London. Judah expertly demonstrates the sheer gap between London’s richest and the poorest. In the wake of Grenfell Tower disaster (2017) that killed 72 residents, this book could not seem more relevant. Following the recent discovery that residents of Grenfell Tower are still awaiting to be rehoused, and similar multi story tower blocks are still using the same materials with a lack of adequate fire protection, it seems that current members of the government could perhaps benefit from delving into Judah.
Now, as I go into London, I see the city through different eyes, with a new level of understanding. Judah’s investigation of the diversities, complexities and range of individual’s that make up the city, has changed my perspective for all the right reasons.
For once, London is not just portrayed through the gleaming streets of Oxford Circus, the bankers of Canary Wharf, or the false promises of unaffordable housing developments that litter East London – but the real people who live there and their intricate lives of constant struggle.
A must read – 5/5.
“It’s like this: Russian and Ukrainian people hate Polish and Lithuanian people. Eastern Europe peoples hate Indian people. Everybody hates the black people. Whites hate everyone . . . That’s just the way it is.”