Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The novel presents the inter-related stories of three families in London during the waning years of the 20th century. The imminent specter of Y2K, as people wondered if the world’s computers would collectively fail at the moment the new millennium began, provides a specific temporal context. For two families, the fathers—Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal—are long-time friends, and many of the interactions occur between them, their wives, and their children. In addition, through the children’s connections, the third family, the Chalfens, become entangled in the others’ lives.

Much of the novel is concerned with Archie and Samal, who had become friends through military service together during World War II, as they move into middle age and remarry. Archie, who is a white English man, recovers from a bungled suicide attempt to meet and marry a Jamaican woman, Clara. Samad, originally from Bangladesh (when still part of British-controlled India), is married to Alsana, also from Bangladesh but much younger.

As the stories unfold, the emphasis switches to their children. Archie’s daughter Irie loves Samad’s son Millat, who is struggling to understand his Muslim heritage. When the two get in hot water together, their classmate Josh Chalfen steps up to tutor them; Josh is actually more motivated by his crush on Irie. This scenario also provides the entry into the work of Marcus, Josh’s father, which is concerned with the computer technology that should enable humankind to survive Y2K.

As the relationship between Irie and Josh develops, she also becomes more invested in her Jamaican heritage on her mother’s side, and she and Josh go to Jamaica. Prior to this, however, Irie had consummated her love for Millat but also slept with his twin brother, Magic, so the father of her daughter might have been either man.

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