‘Belonging’ with Umi Sinha at Hillcrest.

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The biggest book launch I have been to for some time and well deserved for Umi Sinha the author of ‘Belonging.’ Organised by Myriad, her publisher. A real party atmosphere prevails, not least because Uni is surrounded by friends and members of her family, some of whom prepared traditional Indian snacks, a wonderful cake and a fantastic art installation backcloth.

Umi takes the floor with her publishers to welcome us all.   She thanks all those who have contributed to the book’s success including the editor at Myriad, but not least friends and fellow authors who have read her many drafts over the years.

Uni reads an extract from her book that is immediately compelling.  We learn that Lila Langdon is twelve years old when she witnesses a family tragedy after her mother unveils her father’s surprise birthday present – a tragedy that ends her childhood in India and precipitates a new life in Sussex with her great-aunt Wilhelmina.

I don’t know Umi very well but have observed how outgoing and generous she is with her time and encouragement of others.  I have also thoroughly enjoyed some of her amazing performances at the storytelling club she runs. My friend Maggie who invited me tonight once told a story at one of them.

Students from her creative writing courses present her with a lovely bouquet. Naturally I jump up and join queue that runs nearly the length of the hall for her to sign copies of the book. Maggie pops off to get us a few of those lovely snacks!

Outline of the story.

‘From the darkest days of the British Raj through to the aftermath of the First World War, BELONGING tells the interwoven story of three generations and their struggles to understand and free themselves from a troubled history steeped in colonial violence. It is a novel of secrets that unwind through Lila’s story, through her grandmother’s letters home from India and the diaries kept by her father, Henry, as he puzzles over the enigma of his birth and his stormy marriage to the mysterious Rebecca’.  (from the book cover)

This book has already sold well at airport shops in the last three months and looks ready to be a best seller!

The lovely decorations in the hall reminded me a a visit to India in the 80s with an Indian colleague who was taking her children to visit her homeland for the first time. Seeing Umi sitting with her family during the evening brought back some dramatic and poignant memories. I recently found a whole book of slides with a journal of the trip!

The Hillcrest Centre in Newhaven is a wonderful community centre with a cafe, offering  a wide range of events and adult education courses,  http://hillcrestcentre.co.uk/

Evolution  Umi is running a one day course at Evolution, one of my favourite centers for learning something new. Evolution is such a friendly place, based in Brighton and running courses in art, health and creativity at modest cost  http://www.evolutionarts.org.uk/

Postscript. I have now read the book and  I simply couldn’t put it down. Multi faceted like a good diamond.  Compelling characters in a complex drama.

The storytelling with narration from members of the family over three generations is keenly observed. The level of tragedy is sometimes heartbreaking, but all the time the story moves on like textures of different thread  interwoven into the fabric of an embroidery.

Uni takes the action to and fro between India and a village on the South Coast and this helps one to see the complexities of race and class apparent particularly for Indians serving  in the Great War.  Later there are  vivid accounts of how one of the characters was sent to The Pavilion in Brighton when it was a nursing station.

The research alone must have been endless and much of the  subject matter truly painful. Looking at Umi at the end of the launch evening I was suddenly struck by her beauty and composure.

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