There’s a sense, from the very beginning, that Akinti won’t let up. His debut novel begins with all manner of pain: Meina, a Somali refugee, tells of being sold into marriage for a third time, to a rotten-toothed old man, her one comfort her brother Ashvin’s companionship. Flash forward three years, when Ashvin and his friend James stand on opposite towers in London, two partners in a suicide pact. Both jump: Ashvin breaks his neck and dies, James survives. From then on, Meina and James share narrator duties, and Akinti takes us on a rugged tour through both their lives to figure out why that pact was sealed.
Their shared tragedies pull James and Meina together – even when they don’t talk about what happened, there’s a common pain that passes like blood between them. Forest Gate is everything a small novel about large-scale human calamity should be: brutal, beautiful and broken.