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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305

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.

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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.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1214

Archibald “Archie” Jones is trying to commit suicide. He is inhaling carbon monoxide from the exhaust fumes of his running car, which is parked in Willesden Green, a multiracial, multicultural, and mostly immigrant neighborhood of London. Suicide has been Archie’s New Year’s resolution since the miserable failure of his childless marriage to an insane Italian woman. As with most decisions in his life, he had tossed a coin to determine whether or not he should kill himself. A local butcher saves Archie’s life when he sees him in his car, which is parked in the shop’s loading area. Archie readily treats this as a good sign that his life has not yet given up on him.

Reinvigorated by his second chance, Archie, a forty-seven-year-old World War II veteran, attends a random New Year’s Day party, or rather, whatever is left of the celebration from the night before. At the party he encounters Clara Bowden, a nineteen-year-old Caribbean and a lapsed Jehovah’s Witness. Archie and Clara marry just six weeks later.

Born to a highly religious Jamaican mother, Clara immediately sees her marriage to a native-born Englishman as an escape from the old, convoluted ways of her family. Her mother, Hortense Bowden, was born during a 1907 earthquake in her native Kingston, Jamaica. Hortense’s mother, Ambrosia, was fourteen years old at the time of Hortense’s birth. Ambrosia had become pregnant by a white English captain stationed in Jamaica. Because of the earthquake, Hortense had considered her own birth a miracle, and for the rest of her life she would be a religious zealot. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Hortense excitingly continues to anticipate the end of the world because she is firmly convinced that she must be one of the chosen people.

Samad Iqbal, Archie’s best friend for nearly thirty years, had encouraged Archie’s second marriage to a younger woman,...

(The entire section contains 1519 words.)

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