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If You Don't Know Me By Now

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Sathnam Sanghera’s autobiography If You Don’t Know Me By Now was shortlisted for the Costa 2008 Biography/Autobiography award. It is a warm, affectionate and hilarious account of his search in his late twenties and thirties for the history of his family. It was only at this late stage of his life that he found out that both his father and his oldest sister both suffer from schizophrenia, and he only came to this knowledge because of his growing discomfort with the double life he was having to lead, working as a trendy journalist in London, where he dated white women but pretending to his Punjabi parents in Wolverhampton that he was a good Sikh boy willing to contemplate an arranged marriage when the time was right.


Sanghera’s account manages to be both tender and loving and also dryly witty. He is self deprecating about himself to a degree that means every page has its laugh-out loud moments. Here’s an example:


‘At school, the swottiness I’d long displayed also intensified…my relentless sucking up meant that over four years, I was made milk monitor, litter monitor, stock room monitor – a prized job for it meant being let off hymn practice – and tuck shop monitor.’


He is also obviously hugely fond of his family in a way that makes even the harrowing parts of the novel a joy to read. His lightness of touch means that none of the book ever feels mundane, even when dealing with family events that would otherwise mean little to other people. And his journey from being a layman who knew nothing about schizophrenia to coming to terms with its meaning, symptoms, treatment ,prognosis and implications, is refreshingly honest. He owns up to being ignorant about mental illness before his research and is even honest about the feeling of shock he initially felt when waiting in a psychiatric outpatient waiting room, when the patients around him seemed alien and weird rather than fellow humans with histories and personalities. This book is a must not only for anyone who wants to know more about this devastating illness, but for anyone who enjoys humorous, well written memoirs. *****

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