One of the hardest things to wrap one's head around about the July 7 bombers was not the evil at what they did, but that they sounded like us. Ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan's suicide video was all the harder to digest because it was delivered with a Yorkshire accent. Like a lopsided picture, something didn't hang quite right.
Sunjeev Sahota conjures a similarly dizzying effect with his extraordinary debut novel.
Ours are the Streets is a memoir of Imtiaz Raina and the accent in which the book is written is pure Sheffield. However, Imtiaz is no typical son of the city. A trip to Pakistan leads to a visit to Afghanistan from which he returns a changed man. He brings back with him vivid memories of the brute strength of occupying American forces and twisted notions of revenge on the West.
What Sahota creates is not an exploration of the psyche of a suicide bomber, but an exploration of a man. Reminsicent of Hanif Kureishi's Intimacy, in which a man confesses infidelities to himself and his wife through his writings, Sahota brings to life a damaged young man who was so close to a life of utter normality.
One decision, like the flap of butterfly wings that lead to a tropical storm, sets in motion an inexorable journey for Imtiaz. Like a more damaged version of Adrian Mole, there is humour and pathos here. It would be easy to dismiss Imtiaz as a lunatic, were his voice not so familiar and written with such clarity in this highly impressive first novel that sets out not to offer answers, but to explore the mind of a man.