“It was unreal. At last he was actually in the city,
that starry, thrilling, exotic, daunting, longed-for destination.”
Marjorie Lazaro’s novel, A Person of Significance, explores London in the 1950s, at a time when immigrants were arriving from West Africa, India and the Caribbean, each with their own story.
A Person of Significance follows the story of Gad, a talented young pianist from Burma, who arrives in London with nowhere to live, despite the fact that he has a place at a top music college. He faces prejudice from the unwelcoming city but, nevertheless, manages to pursue his ambition as a musician. Gad develops an individual style of performance that allows his warm musicality to connect with his audience. During his time as a music student, he also meets the beautiful Therese and embarks on a passionate, yet turbulent, relationship with her.
Although A Person of Significance is upbeat in tone, readers quickly learn how Gad is forced to face continual prejudice in a tough society. On the road to becoming a musician, whilst trying to get his college tutors to understand his needs, he has to deal with his mother’s death. He falls madly in love, but is mistrusted by Thérèse’s family. Will Gad ever be accepted?
Inspired by the work of Adrian Levy and Michael Ondaatje, this novel will appeal to readers who enjoy modern and contemporary novels and romantic fiction, as well as those who are interested in exploring different cultures and societies in fiction.
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In his play ‘A Woman of No Importance’ Oscar Wild satirises hypocritical attitudes to marriage and extra marital affairs and illustrates how long concealed secrets can come back to haunt the relationships of the present. Above all he voices the desire of the alienated to find a place in society and shows the sacrifices a mother makes to secure the career of her son. Such is the focus of ‘A Person of Significance’ by Marjorie Lazaro who narrates the struggle of Gad a young Burmese immigrant to establish himself as a concert pianist in 1950’s London. Gad’s story details his experience of prejudice and social disapproval as he negotiates, first a courtship, then marriage with Therese a young French woman. Whereas Wilde sets his action in the sophisticated but sterile world of the privileged upper class salons of London, Gads story plays out against the background of the streets and squares of 1950s London so convincingly realised you can practically smell the places and hear the passing traffic.
Literally at the centre of the action is Gad and Therese’s marriage which follows the account of their courtship and their determination to overcome the inevitable obstacles facing a young couple in a mixed race relationship with no money. As in Puccini’ opera, the lovers and their group of friends share a bohemian existence however, unlike Puccini’s lovers this romance, though not without its dark sadnesses, ends happily.
The narrative is framed on a pattern of oppositions between Eastern and Western Culture, men and women, Asian and European races, faith and scepticism, and seeks to explore both the social tensions these create as well as how, like harmony and dissonance in a musical score, these can be integrated and transcended to achieve something both beautiful and meaningful. Gad’s aspiration to become a professional pianist is counterpointed by Theresa’s pragmatic approach to the constraints imposed on their relationship by their lack of money. Both suffer loss through death and when a painful secret that haunts Therese is brought to the surface by the actions of the spoilt and privileged ‘friend’ Valerie it threatens to wreck Theresa’s marriage to Gad.
Overall the novel is a distillation of youthful love amid the intolerance of 1950’s London. It is difficult to believe that such painfully humiliating abuse the young couple encounter on the streets of London happened within living memory. ‘A Person of Significance’ both reminds us of this uncomfortable fact and hopefully helps to ensure such hostility to unconventional love such as that experienced by Wilde never returns.
by Glyn Churchill