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Synopsis

'You leave your mother and your brother too,You leave the pretty wife you're never faithful to,You cross the sea to find those streets that's paved with gold,And all you find is Brixton cell that's oh! so cold.'London, 1957. Victoria Station is awash with boat trains discharging hopeful black immigrants into a cold and alien land. Liberal England is about to discover the legacy of Empire. And when Montgomery Pew, a newly appointed assistant welfare officer in the Colonial Department, meets Johnny Fortune, recently arrived from Lagos, the meeting of minds and races takes a surprising turn...Colin MacInnes gives London back to the people who create its exciting sub-culture. Hilarious, anti-conventional, blisteringly honest and fully committed to youth and vitality, City of Spades is a unique and inspiring tribute to a country on the brink of change.

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    Mesmerising. I couldn’t put it down.

    London in the Fifties (before Nigeria gained Independence from Britain). The author brilliantly gets into the heads of African students /emigrants (called Spades) and equally well into the heads of White characters (the Jumbles). McInnes shifts impressively from the voice of 18-years-old black Nigerian Johnny Fortune to the voice of Montgomery or Miss Theodora Pace, two white locals who are fascinated by the Spades (and display great kindness and friendship to Johnny Fortune). The author describes the swelling population of Africans (from British colonies and the Commonwealth) in London at that time, their hopes and expectations (that are never realised), the clash in culture, the recurring misunderstandings in inter-racial social interactions, the Spades’ difficulty to adapt to the prevailing rules of civil behaviour. We witness how Spades are sucked - and spiral downwards - into the underworld of gambling, prostitution, drugs and crime. The locations - pubs, dance halls, nightclubs - that Africans from various countries haunt (although Africans from different countries are rivals and not friends, they are bundled as Spades by the Jumbles). There are endless clashes with the Law, resentment by the police force and rampant corruption. Despite it all, the Spades possess an exotic charm and Jumbles are irresistibly attracted to them. Women harass Johnny Fortune. He cannot resist their passion for him/his body, pregnancies follow, a mixed race baby boy is born. Yet Johnny’s values remain unchanged. They have nothing in common with those of the benevolent Jumbles who care for him and continuously finance him after he loses his money gambling - even paying for the cost of his lawsuit. Johnny Fortune is self-centred and self-absorbed. He doesn’t care much for all his female admirers or the mother of his child. He intends to stay a free spirit. Colin McInnes narrates both the White and Black version of the same story thus displaying his intimate knowledge of both sides. It is a deep analysis of London society at the time. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down.

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