A Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Issue section: 

Review of 'Caught in the Crossfire', Alan Gibbons, Dolphin £4.99

We read about politics, we participate in demonstrations, strikes and all sorts of other activity in opposition to the system. But how different people react to it in all aspects of their daily lives is something beyond our immediate experience, except for a particular oppression we may personally suffer. But an insight into these real life experiences and emotions, which can dominate people's lives, rounds out and enriches our intellectual and political understanding. That is where novels come in. They play out our politics through our emotions, thus forming an important part of an active person's view of life.

'Caught in the Crossfire' is a novel for all ages but mainly for children and examines the organisation of a BNP branch (called the Patriotic League in the book) in a northern town like Oldham, its attitude to the Muslim community, the repercussions thereof and the riots that ensued. The story is built around the Nazi characters, whose leader comes from out of town specifically to build the Patriotic League branch and participate in the local elections, and two families. One consists of an Asian taxi driver married to a white English woman who have a twin teenage son and daughter, the other of a bigoted drunken local man who beats his wife, and their two teenage sons.

The story centre on the different attitudes of the four youngsters, one of whom is attracted to and joins the Patriotic League, while his brother falls in love with the 'Asian' girl, whose twin brother plays a leading role in the Muslims' fightback.

There are many ramifications--the relationship of the parents to one another, the attitude of the parents to their children's activities, how the youngsters got caught up in their different political movements, the love of the two youngsters trying to work its way through the complex racial situation, the contradiction between the Patriotic League's attempt at respectability for electoral purposes, and the violence committed by the League's youngsters who refuse to be committed to respectability, and the developing tensions and animosities inside the Nazi organisation.

The story outline is explicitly political, covering the events around the racism fostered by the Patriotic League and the riots they engendered, all of which is recent history, and still being played out in some northern towns. But what engrosses one is the behaviour of the characters in the novel, who are so real, so human, that one could expect to meet them at any time. As the complications, the animosities and solidarities develop towards the outbreak of the riots it is difficult to put the book down. The ending is a dramatic climax.

This book is a worthy accompaniment to the fight being put up against racism and the growth of the Nazis in Britain.