Pigeon English – notes

Pigeon English
by Stephen Kelman
2011/263 p. / Kindle
Rating –  8.5


I am sooo glad that the author and protagonist are both male.  When Harrison talks about pissing on the cleaning bubbles I had to check – if this were a male author I was thinking – how the heck does she know.  The fact that the author is male lends so much authenticity to scenes like that – this is not a universal or gender neutral thing.  (lol)

This is a very interesting book – the jargon of the 1st person protagonist,  an 11-year old immigrant from Ghana to the ghettos of London,  is totally believable – but not quite comprehensible.   I enjoyed figuring out what Harrison was telling us – the Kindle search feature helped me look at several examples for context.

Ghana is a small, very poor,  Christian country on the Gulf of Guinea in western Africa.  It has a fairly high migration rate with some labeled as refugees.

The fifth largest group of African migrants in the UK are from Ghana. There are approximately 96650 Ghanaian migrants in the UK, which is about 0.16% of the total UK population according to the Labour Forces Survey 2006 [Labour Forces Survey]. This number only includes those who were not born in the UK and not 2nd, 3rd and subsequent generation immigrants. Of this number:

According to the news,  Ghana is plagued with corruption.

Eating Ghanan food in London:


Here’s a little glossary:

*Adjei –  ah jee  – oh gee – ah jesus –
* Aswah –  I swear
* Blud – blood –
* bogah – black person –
* bo-styles –  boss styles?
* chemshi  – aluminum roofing sheets –  Ghanese – (from Dan- thanks!)
* chooked – stabbed
* Cornrolls – corn rows
* djembies – something with dances –  jams? – drums per a reader!  (see below)
* Donkey miles –  literally translated  Ghanese – long –  similar to mountain miles.
* dope-fine – perfect
* hutious – hideous or righteous
* idey –  “The hunger idey almost killed me.”  –  idea?
* innit – isn’t it?  –   (corrected thanks to Karen M.)
* numpties-  nobodies?  Humpty dumpty numptie? fool?
* obrundi –  white in Ghana
* sound –  “You stupid boy.  I go sound you.”
* tro-tros –  Ghana – trolley?

** The language works to make the reader feel a bit of an outsider.  The narrator sometimes explains words or phrases that the reader would probably know so he might be writing or talking to someone from his homeland.

Another 1st person in the book is a little flying pigeon Harrison feeds from his balcony.  I was startled as well as pleased to see the insert comments from time to time.  He speaks perfect English.  (heh)

Harrison lives with his mother and older sister on the 9th floor of a very flimsy ghetto housing project.  His father and a couple other relatives are still in Ghana and trying to join Harrison and family.

Harrison and his street buds are investigating the stabbing murder of an acquaintance.  Harrison was almost a witness – it appeared the stabber wanted the dead boy’s food.

The boy is bright and funny. kind and innocent yet he lies, steals, cheats and runs with his buds.    He likes to read,  he knows how to spell,  he stays out of trouble with the tougher, older gangs.  He has a great imagination. He appreciates some of the male adults – Mr. Fromlin from church,  Pastor Taylor, Mr. Tomlin,  his science teacher.  He has a girlfriend named Poppy with yellow hair. Sad to be coming of age when you’re only 11.

I’m enjoying the book very much!

Harrison – Harri – protagonist
Dean – Harrison’s best friend at school
Pigeon – a wise old bird – Harri’s alter-ego,  his muse
Jordan – best friend outside of school (Jordan was expelled)
X-fire –  Crossfire – Marcus Johnson  older gang member
Dizzy – older gang member
the Dell Farm Crew (DFC) – the gang
Terry Take-away – an adult in the ‘hood,  dirty and takes things away
Asbo- Terry Take-away’s dog
Altaf – Somali – can’t swim – so not a pirate
Vilis – from Latvia
Lydia – Harrison’s sister, Chanelle
Mom – Harrison’s mom
Agnes –  baby sister
Aunt Sophie – Mom’s sister (?)
Miquita – Lydia’s friend
Julius  – landlord – rich – smacks Sophie
Poppy – Harri’s would be girlfriend

many other friends and neighbors

Setting – ? the reader is left pretty much to invent this himself – that’s fine – there’s plenty going on without a lot of energy going into setting descriptions.

Metaphors – what few are used are clichéd,  but that’s perfect because of the age of the protagonist and the  theme of language –  Blood a huge plot element as well as  metaphor.
Aunt Sonia’s little tree seems to be a metaphor for a live thing trapped inside – but it’s a trick (maybe on the reader, too?).

Themes – African immigrants,  (how does this fit with other immigrant stories – the US has a whole genre full),  language,  rules,    dreams for future – from next year to heaven – Forever,   outsiders,  missing home and people,  old ways vs new ways,   memory,   senses,   growing up.  Fears and having PROTECTION like dogs and body parts,   family,  friends,  the bat,  skills like who can run or fight best,  Superman,  Spiderman,  flying,  the alligator tooth,  teachers, the church,  and the pigeon probably more.   Harri wants to protect others – Agnes,  Poppy,  Pigeon.

Dialogue – very realistic male-type dialogue – esp. pages

Extras –  graphics are great in this one – very useful,  meaningful,  simple,


Chapters have little pictures –  March = jet plane,  April = fingerprint,  May= camera,  June=ocean waves,  July – a pigeon,

Lots of sense talk – seeing – where Harrison wears Poppy’s glasses,  touch – the fingerprints episodes,   smell –  ?   taste –  ? ,   hear – airplanes,


7 Responses to Pigeon English – notes

  1. Niamh says:

    Pretty sure djembies are a type of African drum

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And I updated the vocabulary again! Thank you! This is great.


  3. Fiorda says:

    Does anyone have a paper on Pigeon English???


  4. I think this is all there is – a little review, probably not enough for a school project.


  5. Nikki says:

    Fab list! I think hutious might mean dangerous rather than hideous/righteous?


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