Grim lives of desperate people told with love and humour
A 20th-century Welsh poet wrote that fiction, which is all lies, is closer than the historian to perfect truth. By that definition, the same would be true of the politician’s statistics.
Those thoughts spin through the mind while reading Trading Tatiana, Debi Alper’s pacey, funny, heart-warming and ultimately tragic second novel.
It is released at a time when Tony Blair and Michael Howard are out-bidding each other to show us all how tough they are – or will be – on asylum-seekers. They should read this novel. This is a political novel by a committed writer, writing from first-hand knowledge and detailed research. The snippets of information about the scale of what is done by those who live off the misery of others is enraging and heart-breaking. This is about the grim existence of desperate people clinging on at the brink, yet told with great humour and love.
It is brilliantly written with all the underlying tensions of a terrific page-turner.
Get out there, buy it and read it.
Catherine Hunt, Shotsmag
Here’s a welcome new crime writer, new to me, anyway; the publisher notes that she has written one other book.
Alper’s theme isn’t original – she uses the current favourite crime, the traffic in prostitutes and the former iron curtain thugs who smuggle in naive, young girls, beat them up, terrorise them and then become their pimps – but her way of telling is refreshing.
Her heroine and narrator is a thirty-something, ex-drug addict living the twentieth floor of a vile block of flats in the Old Kent Road. Jo Cooper has every right to be depressed and cynical but her voice is self deprecating, honest and optimistic. She vividly describes the sleaze and mess around her from the filthy, often broken lift, to the street battles between rival gangs. Multi-cultural London is her city and she loves everything about it but it is dirty, noisy and overcrowded so if people seek asylum there, she figures the place they leave must be hellish.
Alper has a gift for voices; she can do Rasta, East End, posh, stroppy, anything at all. Her funniest scenes are those in neighbours’ kitchens when the women get together with their kids and chat. These are real characters not stereotypes and not to be disdained because they live in a grotty place. Moreover, they react to events and their thinking changes. She understands suspense, too. The pace is fast; as Jo gets further and further embroiled into what is patently a very dangerous situation, the tension increases, new characters get involved and the plot, as the cliché goes, thickens very satisfactorily.
Cath Staincliffe, author of the Sal Kilkenny mysteries and creator of Blue Murder, starring Caroline Quentin
‘My big fear is insanity. Everything else comes a long way behind.’ Ex-addict Jo Cooper is lonely, vulnerable and genuinely kind. She’s also brave and daft enough to offer sanctuary to a troubled teenage runaway. With compassion, humour and a strong sense of social justice Alper takes us for a walk away from the mainstream and into the seedier, needier, weirder side of London. An alternative, contemporary crime scene with the authentic flavour of life in the new, mean millennium yet there’s hope and belief too, in the potential of friendship and the possibilities of ‘families’ we choose rather than those we are born into.
Readers’ reviews on Amazon
It’s that van again !, February 5, 2005 Reviewer:
Emma from London
Like the second series of Shameless, this novel is darker and better than the first. Although more contemplative, there are thrills, spills and acrobatics as Tatiana flees her men in black. Of course the Nirvanans, seen here in a vertiginous perspective through the eyes of Jo, get in on the action, until the unexpected ending, poignant with buddhist resonances, resolves everybody’s struggle.
This is a book glowing with humanity. You could warm your hands on it. cracking good read, May 28, 2005
Reviewer: A reader from LEICESTER FOREST EAST, LEICESTER. Like the previous reviewer I found this better than the first (excellant) novel. The characters are well rounded and the plot moves along in fast and flowing way. It is a moving story and combines sadness and terror in an amazing way. More please ……
Roz Clarke, Chatshow.net. 16.2.05
Debi Alper’s second novel, like “Nirvana Bites”, is set in the downtrodden areas of South London she knows well, areas of desolate high rise housing and vibrant street markets where silent desperation and glorious optimism walk hand in hand. Humour, tragedy, poverty and lawlessness are the daily diet of those who live in within the sprawling urban community and all these elements are evident in Debi’s blackly comic crime thriller.
Debi writes with comic affection about the alternative worlds of co-operative living, new agers and fetishists. She has known the strong women who battle against the odds to survive and are knit into a supportive sisterhood. She has sympathy not condemnation for the junkies and the home boys. Debi has revealed that initially she wrote in episodes to read out at her writers’ group, that she didn’t know she was writing a novel. There’s something almost Dickensian in this approach, as there is in the element of social documentary she includes, in her characterisation and in the landscape against which her novels are set. Her photographer’s eye gives her writing a depth of detail and a reality that makes the story both stark and rich … her voice is fresh and bright and laced with a darkly delicious anarchic sense of humour.
Sparkling, fast paced and blackly comic.
Martin Tierney, Glasgow Herald 5.2.05
The second novel from the London-based writer is an unorthodox mix of comedy, kitchen-sink drama and dark thriller… Alper… move[s] the narrative seamlessly from the comic opportunities sexual perversion provides, to the darker, violent side of prostitution and sexual slavery.
Zoe Walker, South London Press, February 2005
Alper’s portrayal of South London living is perhaps as honest a portrait as has yet been painted…
Fiona Hook, Big Issue January 2005
It’s funny how one thing leads to another. If Jo Cooper, ex-heroin addict and incurable helper of waifs and strays hadn’t decided to let the strange man she found on her roof in buttockless S&M gear into her top-floor flat in horrible, rundown Boddington Heights, she’d never have had enough money to take her neighbour’s kids to Brighton for the day. So she’d never have rescued a mystery girl from the thugs who were pursuing her, and the course of her life would have been different.
The mysterious woman turns up at her flat … exposing Jo to a strange new world of illegal immigration and prostitution, where any victim who escapes must be ruthlessly hunted down. Its utter savagery is thrown into sharp relief by the everyday kindness of neighbours who band together to watch each other’s kids, the sweetness of agoraphobic Pete whose handmade candles Jo earns her living selling and the astonishing generosity and willingness to help of the housing co-operative she stumbles into in her quest for her visitor’s real identity. In trying to save her mystery guest, Jo finds her own salvation.
A blackly comic thriller where a London market trader finds herself plunged into the world of illegal immigration and teenage prostitution.
LATEST 7 February 2005
Trading Tatiana is a rapidly-moving novel that blends black comedy, soft politics and an array of well-developed characters to form a book that is immensely entertaining and packed with unexpected twists.
There was also a review in the Guardian.
It was a real stinker. Well no one could ever doubt the subjective nature of the process, so a bad review, though disappointing, wouldn’t have made me feel too bad so long as there were good ones out there too – which there were.
What really worried me about the one in the Guardian though, was that the reviewer (who I’ve never met and who presumably knows nothing about me) went well beyond the bounds of literary criticism and launched an astonishing personal attack!
I’ve decided not to include the review in this section, but in order to avoid the cries of ‘Chicken!’ I’ve included it on my weblog, where I have the opportunity to answer the criticisms.