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Pigeon English Paperback – June 19, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"This this boy’s love letter to the world made me laugh and tremble all the way through. Pigeon English is a triumph."
—Emma Donoghue, author of Room

"Continually surprising and endearing ... There’s a sweetness here that’s irresistible."
Washington Post

"[A] work of deep sympathy and imagination."
Boston Globe

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Winning [and] ingenious. . . Pigeon English packs a wallop."
Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Intelligent, observant."
The New Yorker

"Since Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, there have been certain rules observed when children play detective. Stephen Kelman throws them all out ... The mystery is secondary to the pleasures of listening to Harri."
Christian Science Monitor

"In turns funny and tragic ... Its message is universal."
Huffington Post

"If your patrons liked Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and if they rooted for Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire, they will love Harri Opuku."
Library Journal, starred review

"Pigeon English is a book to fall in love with: a funny book, a true book, a shattering book ... If you loved Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or Emma Donoghue’s Man Booker–shortlisted Room, you’ll love this book too."
The Times (UK)

"Adapting the narrative voice of Holden Caulfield from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye ... Pigeon English convincingly evokes life on the edge ... The humour, the resilience, the sheer ebullience of its narrator—a hero for our times—should ensure the book becomes, deservedly, a classic."
Mail on Sunday (UK)

"This exuberant novel sparkles with wonder and delight ... A vivid snapshot of contemporary urban childhood, it’s Harri’s voice, brilliantly captured and entirely convincing, which makes this book such a joy."
Daily Mail (UK)

"Filled with energy, humour and compassion, Pigeon English is a gut-wrenchingly sad novel that makes you laugh out loud."
Guardian (UK)

"Pigeon English is a fascinating look at a culture pushed to the margins by a nation’s economic and empathic indifference; Harri is our immediately likable tour guide."
Time Out Chicago

"Kelman’s [debut] has a powerful story, a pacy plot and engaging characters. It paints a vivid portrait with honesty, sympathy and wit . . . It is horrifying, tender and funny . . . Pigeon English will be read by millions . . . Parents who do their children’s homework are in for a treat."
Telegraph (UK)

"Writing in a child’s voice is always a high-wire act . . . Those who have pulled it off range from J.D. Salinger to Emma Donoghue. Kelman takes it one step further . . . The result is a tour de force . . . Funny and poignant, Pigeon English is fired with an uncontainable spirit, a rare distillate of boyhood optimism and adult wisdom."
Maclean’s (Canada)

"Kelman’s command of Harrison’s innocent all-seeing eyes makes for an engaging read."
The Daily Beast

"Funny and poignant . . . What might be described as Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Trainspotting . . . Undeniable."
Toronto Star (Canada)

"Like Harper Lee’s Scout Finch and Miriam Toews’ Thebes Troutman, Stephen Kelman’s Harri is an original who seems to breathe real oxygen. Watching Harri’s exploits will make a reader want to laugh, marvel and cheer, but also cringe in fear . . . To be moved to care this deeply for a fictional character is a rare experience . . . The effect is one of profound transcendence."
Winnipeg Free Press (Canada)

"Told with humour, despite the gritty subject matter and setting . . . Pigeon English charms its way into some hard places."
Financial Times (UK)

"Harri’s joie de vivre is infectious and his voice simultaneously charming and haunting—similar to the narrators of Emma Donoghue’s Room or Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. And much like those books, Pigeon English is a story for adults."

"Authentic and audacious . . . Harri is . . .tantalisingly sympathetic."
Scotsman (UK)

"Imaginative, gut-wrenching and powerful . . . It’s a window on a world many of us will never experience (thankfully), and it is beautifully and intelligently written."
Edmonton Journal (Canada)

"A charming narrative voice energizes this lively first novel . . . festooned with vivid, funny locutions . . . There’s just no resisting the kid . . . his embryonic wit, street smarts and survival instincts are about as hutious as it gets."

"Hilarious, touching and terrifying by turns . . . In his evocation of the dreaming that brings many immigrants to cities all over the world and the danger and despair they face there, Kelman has crafted a book that soars."
Chronicle Herald (Canada)

"Laced with humour, innocence and authenticity."
The Independent (UK)

"Prepare to fall in love with Harri . . . [A] fresh, funny and ultimately moving story of 11-year-old Ghanaian immigrant to London."
Shelf Awareness, starred review

"There is an irrepressible joy in Harri . . . Harri is a hero for all ages . . . He worms his way into your affections and leaves you breathless . . . Pigeon English is a mesmerizing tale of naïveté and discovery that has us rooting on the sidelines, hoping that Harri will triumph."
The Rover (Canada)

"The strength of this debut novel lies in Harri’s voice . . . Teens will appreciate Harri’s winning narration, his child’s-eye view of adult situations, and the rising tension when playing detective becomes a high-stakes matter."
School Library Journal, Adult Books 4 Teens

"Pigeon English has already been hailed as a ‘brilliant’ and ‘deeply moving’ depiction of urban life . . . Far from being a political tract, however, Kelman's book uses Harri to convey a straightforward message about how good can triumph, whatever the odds."
London Evening Standard (UK)

"Well-tuned . . . crisp and mirthful."
Publishers Weekly

"Opoku’s plight is both heart-warming and heartbreaking, as his actions unwittingly speed the inevitable cruel crash of manhood into his quietly contented world."
The List (UK), 4 out of 5 stars

"A book both chilling and charming . . . A coming-of age tale that feels achingly accurate."
Globe and Mail (Canada)

"A startingly assured piece of work [with] . . . a level of sensitivity and craftsmanship which few crime novelists can offer. What strikes the reader all the way through is the superb control with which Kelman writes . . . Kelman is a writer to watch."
 —Mystery Scene

"Pigeon English introduces readers to a Dickensian London circa multicultural now. A violent and riveting coming of age story, Stephen Kelman’s debut novel also contains well-timed moments of comedy, affecting family drama, and just enough hopefulness."
Vancouver Sun (Canada)

"A powerful and impressive novel . . . Kelman knows the world of boys—their language, their humour, their thoughts—and Harri’s voice is dazzlingly authentic."
—Clare Morrall, author of the Booker-shortlisted Astonishing Splashes of Colour and The Man Who Disappeared

"Rich with lingo, energy, and occasional terror, Pigeon English is a stark and funny look at life in London’s rough housing projects. After another hutious gangland chooking, eleven-year-old Harri is on the case, tracking the murderer for donkey hours while impressing Poppy with his bo-styles. A compelling anatomy of our inner cities."
—Tony D’Souza, author of Whiteman and Mule

About the Author

Stephen Kelman grew up in the housing projects of Luton, England. He has worked as a careworker, a warehouse operative, in marketing, and in local government administration. Pigeon English was shortlisted for the Man Booker and  Desmond Elliot prizes and was named a “best first novel of 2011”* in his native England; it has been published in twenty countries.

*Waterstone’s bookstore

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780547737423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547737423
  • ASIN: 0547737424
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Ellington VINE VOICE on July 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The story of Harri Opuku, an eleven year old immigrant from Ghana living in London with his older sister and mother, is one that may take you by surprise; as it sure did me. Written with a stylish mix of Anthony Burgess, Bret Easton Ellis, JD Salinger and newbie Helen Grant, `Pigeon English' has a heart and soul all its own.

Not to point fingers, but this is everything that `Little Bee' should have been.

Stephen Kelman's debut novel certainly has wet my appetite for more to come, considering that `Pigeon English' had me glued from page one and kept me completely enthralled until the poignant and stunningly tragic conclusion. I cannot wait for him to deliver something of equal ferocity in the form of a sophomore novel. He is one that I am anxious to see what else he has in store; for he certainly has the talent to deliver.

`Pigeon English' tells the story of Harri, a young and naïve boy who is searching for some normalcy in his new environment. Coming to London in hopes of a better life, Harri is in a family divided as he awaits the arrival of his youngest sister and his father from their native Ghana. Harri tries to acquaint himself with his new life, but everything is so different, and when a young boy winds up murdered, Harri finds himself living out a real life horror show. Taking it upon himself to solve the murder, Harri pushes buttons and makes astute observations that betray his innocence and threaten his very life.

But this is all about Kelman, and his ability to create something so fresh with a prose ripe with clichéd opportunities. Instead of succumbing to a predictable thriller-type plot, Kelman makes the focal point of his novel Harri himself.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are three aspects to this debut novel that are probably going to make or break the average reader's reaction to it. The first is that it is largely plotless -- instead it follows an 11-year-old immigrant from Ghana as he makes his way around the impoverished London estate new home. The second is that it is narrated in his broken, or "pidgin" English. And the third is that at the start and end of some chapters, it also features some first-pigeon narration from, well, a pigeon.

Personally, while I tend to prefer plot-driven fiction, I can live with minimal or no plot if there is something to connect with. And in this book, 11-year-old Harrison (aka "Harri") Opoku is such a lovable, naive, child that I couldn't help but connect with his irrepressible spirit. Like Harri, moved from Africa to an alien first-world country at around age 10-11, and found it to be a similarly bewildering and hostile place. Others may find Harri to be too precious or unbelievably innocent, but I fell for him hook, line, and sinker. And to be fair, the book is not entirely plotless, there is a murder mystery to propel things, along with a minor romantic subplot.

I tend to really like writing that has a distinctive sound, from the thick Scots of Irvine Welsh's work to the Edwardian slang of P.G. Wodehouse to the Nadsat Anthony Burgess concocted for A Clockwork Orange.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you read this book expecting it to be a murder mystery that will be solved by boy detectives, you're likely to be disappointed. The story does open with a murder, and young Harri and his friends make half-baked attempts to solve it, but like boys around the world, they're easily distracted. These aren't the Hardy Boys; Harri Opoku's idea of crime detection is to scan the horizon for clues using his plastic binoculars, to conduct stakeouts with an ample supply of Cherry Coke, and to stick tape on random objects near (and not so near) the crime scene to see if he can lift fingerprints. The kids he doesn't like (including the several who bully him) are, of course, his prime suspects. Quite by accident Harri stumbles upon actual evidence. When he gets close to the truth (again, quite by accident) trouble ensues.

Still, this isn't a plot-driven novel; it's a chronicle of a short period in a boy's life. When he isn't detecting, Harri talks to his friends about superheroes, goes to school (he's delighted to learn that a lemon can be made into a battery), fights with his sister Lydia (who is keeping a mysterious secret of her own), admires his platonic girlfriend Poppy, and runs away from bullies (some of whom he provokes because he knows he can outrun them). Occasionally Harri thinks about his life in Ghana, where his father and grandmother still live, keeping in touch by telephone. Now and then he contemplates pigeons.

Harri loves pigeons. He believes he's communicating with a special pigeon friend, although he's uncertain whether these silent conversations are real or imagined. From time to time we're treated to a philosophical pigeon's-eye-view of the world. I confess to being a bit puzzled by those passages.
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