You Don’t Know Me – Slang in the Courtroom

“You know, part of me thought if I told my speech myself then at least you get to feel a little bit of what it is like to be m. That if my QC did it then maybe you would all be thinking, ‘Yeah, it’s all very well to put it over all shiny and slick but that fucker’s still a murderer.’ And I really did think that if I told my own story I could make you feel my life. But actually explaining the evidences is out loud is proper hard.”
– You Don’t Know Me – Imran Mahmood

You’re guilty until proven innocent. Perception is reality, that’s the way that it is in this world.
– Chris Webber

A young man is in court, on trial for murder. As all evidence seems to point to him being the culprit, the unnamed defendant does the unexpected, and sacks his lawyer. There are eight pieces of compelling evidences against him – now he will stand up and tell the real story about what happened.
His life is in the hands of the jury who are listening – but can he convince them of his innocence?

Mixing inner-city ‘London-speak’ and slang with intelligent insights and a perspective into the justice system, the young man describes the events which has led up to his trial, asking us to consider an alternative course of events which lies behinds his innocence.

I thought this was an interesting take on gang culture, social influences, poverty and and the idea of racial profiling and the opportunities available for young men in London today. It sounds like a pretty heavy read, but it’s quite easy to follow, and it’s interesting to see how an intelligent young man presents his story – his way of life, the South-London culture he is immersed in, and the choices he has to make.

The language of the novel is fairly informal, but it flows well enough that it feels credible (although I’ll admit, certain aspects of the story line were a bit dramatic!) It’s also easy to follow – there’s one narrator to keep the story readable, which makes a change from a lot of stories which can be confusing with multiple perspectives. It also helps that the main character is pretty likeable – he tells his life story, which is be sad, funny and moving, and one which keeps you reading.

As a Londoner myself, I thought this was quite an interesting book – I loved seeing the familiar place names, slang and things that the characters do, although there is also a lot of the culture in this story which isn’t so familiar. While I do believe that there is a prevalent issue with drugs, gangs and peer pressure in today’s society, it felt a little too magnified in this book (although this may also be down to the fact that the author of this novel is a lawyer who has spent 25 years defending a mixture of inner-city clients).

I thought this was a really interesting read; while the conclusion is pretty unexpected, which might not appeal to everyone, the character’s voice was interesting enough to keep me reading to see what happened. It takes time to get into the language of the story, but it’s engaging enough that the characters feel well-drawn and the premise of the story is followed through quite well. At first, we see another young, vulnerable black man in London caught up in gang culture, with low prospects and not many opportunities – but through it all, we also that though he is surrounded by poverty, domestic violence and a drug culture, there’s also positives which shine through, as the strong women in his life who are important to him, the loyal friends who stick by him, and the prevailing love he has for the woman who is at the centre of this story.

You Don’t Know Me is available to buy on Amazon and was sent to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Maya Angelou: An Icon, A Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Today I heard the sad news that author, poet, icon, artist, civil rights leader, woman, Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86. She was famous for many things, being a writer, singer, dancers, actress and acitivist, but at the core of it all, she remained a sunny, beautiful woman who had many lessons to give and moved many of us while we were growing up.

When you  learn, teach. When you get, give.

I remember reading Maya Angelou’s famous classic I Know why the Caged Bird Sings at the age of  eleven after it was handed to me by a teacher who knew of my love for books and was always trying giving me new genres to explore. I was a huge reader then (I still am, but these days I find that I make less time for reading unless it’s on my daily commute) and was hungry for literature which went beyond the usual Goosebumps and teenage-angst stories. I found my fill in Alice Walker, Adele Geras, Margaret Atwood, and as I grew older, in post-colonial authors, post-modern authors and feminist writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi, Toni Morrison, Meera Syal, Doris Lessing and Arundhati Roy, but to name a few. This is just a tip of the iceberg for the amazing range of authors out there whose works I’ve swam through, floated through, devoured and then looked for more of.

Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It’s very clear.

Maya Angelou is all of these. She was someone who wanted to push boundaries, making us re-think the norm, and above all, celebrated life, being a woman, being a person and seeing the human in us rather than the stereotypes and the labels. Is it any wonder that she is remembered for so many things? The one thing about her which spoke to me through all of her writing, which really resonated was the fact that she had lived such a hard life, and yet remained a positive person. I’ve met so many negative people, and indeed it’s in our culture to not be happy with what we have, to want more and to criticise, and yet Maya Angelou empathised the importance of being assertive and being proud of who we are and what we have. Growing up, I’m sure we all have stories to tell in which we felt alone, different or pushed down – Maya taught us that we can either let it define us, or use it to buil character, be happy with ourselves, learn from our experiences rather than being just content

You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.

I love how this blogger put it. Maya Angelou’s words mean that we are not marginalised, pushed aside and made ‘just’. I, like my peers, am not ‘just’ a coloured girl, we ARE coloured girls – and this matters.

Maya Angelou may be gone from this world, but her words and her philosophy live on; as sad as it is that the world has suffered a loss today, it is also beautiful that she has left a beautiful legacy which continues to inspire so many generations.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.

There’s several obituaries from prominent newspapers of the wonderful woman, here’s the one I liked most (and this one too) – the tributes, stories and accolades keep pouring in for this wonderful woman. I think they all sing the same thing – Maya Angelou was an inspirational woman to so many people because of many different reasons. For me, it’s because she introduced me to a whole new world at the age of 11 when I stepped into I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and kept going.

A great soul never dies. It brings us together, again and again

Maya Angelou, as her poem suggests, really was a Phenomenal Woman.
Rest in peace Maya Angelou, may you reach Jannah (heaven) and know the blessings and peace you showed to others. Thank you for your legacy – sharing your love, your knowledge and your wisdom and for generally being such a beautiful person. The world was, is and will be a better place just because you have lived. You will be missed.