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Tales of Two Londons. Stories from a Fractured City



Original Language: English (US) | 290 pp. | Fall 2018

2 Seas Represents: French, Dutch and Nordic Rights.


Following Tales of Two Cities and Tales of Two Americas, this rich anthology combines a range of divers voices, including well-known writers such as Andrew O’Hagan, Ali Smith and Helen Simpson, to convey the experience and meanings of inequality in contemporary London.

“This anthology sets out to mirror London’s diversity by ensuring that more than a third of the voices are of those not born in the UK. It aims to reflect the fact that any city is the sum of its people, and the intelligence they offer is various and sometimes oblique. How do the triumphs of community activism square with the curse of gentrification? What is it like to give birth shortly after arriving in a strange city? How does Londoners’ love of cats and dogs feel to someone who has lost everything? Memoir, reportage, history and several different genres of poetry keep company in its pages, sparking off each other in challenging, invigorating and inspiring ways.” – from the Introduction.

London today is embattled as rarely before in peacetime. On one side the city has flourished, cementing its standing as a world leader in business and culture. Infrastructure investment outstrips anywhere else in the UK, property prices have soared, technology and new media industries have burgeoned. On the other, poverty remains endemic, homelessness and the privations of low paid work are evident everywhere, gang violence is rampant, and the burnt-out hulk of the Grenfell Tower housing block stands as an ugly reminder that, even in the wealthiest areas, inequality can be so acute as to be murderous.

In these pages Claire Armitstead has drawn together a rich collection of fiction, reportage and poetry to capture the schisms defining the contemporary city. In a metropolis with nearly 40% of its population born outside the country, Tales of Two Londons eschews what Armitstead labels a “tyranny of tone,” emphasizing voices from beyond conventional arenas.

Here, alongside writers with established reputations, we find stories from hitherto unpublished immigrants and refugees, from people working with deprived youth in city, from Kurdish activists, and from tenants groups. Taken together, their stories portray the fabric of the city: its housing, its food, its pubs, its buses, even its graveyards. Above all, this scintillating anthology draws on the rich mélange of people who inhabit today’s London, both lamenting the unequal way the city treats them and celebrating the vibrant urban life their co-existence delivers.

Claire Armitstead (ed.) was born in south London and spent her early years in northern Nigeria. She worked as a trainee reporter in South Wales, covering the Welsh valleys during the miners’ strike, before joining the Hampstead & Highgate Express as a theatre critic and sub-editor. She then moved to the Financial Times, and subsequently to the Guardian, where she has worked as arts editor, literary editor, head of books and most recently, Associate Editor (Culture). She presents the weekly Guardian Books podcast and is a regular speaker at festivals around the world. She has been a trustee of English PEN since 2013.

Contributors: Akbaala Writing Group, Arifa Akbar, Memed Aksoy, Omar Alfrouh, Sophie Baggott, Kinga Burger, Duncan Campbell, John Crace, Tom Dyckhoff, Travis Elborough, Inua Ellams, Jo Glanville, Stephen Griffith, Lynsey Hanley, Jonathan Jones, Nicolette Jones, Ben Judah, Sarah Maguire, David McKie, Rowan Moore ,Daljit Nagra, Andrew O’Hagan, Ruth Padel, Michèle Roberts, Jacob Ross, Ferdous Sadat, Jane Shilling, Helen Simpson, Iain Sinclair, Ali Smith, Lisa Smith Yomi Sode, Richard Norton-Taylor, Alex Rhys-Taylor, Ed Vulliamy, Ewa Winnicka and Penny Woolcock.