The Corner Shop: Shopkeepers, The Sharmas And The Making Of Modern Britain by Babita Sharma

The Blurb On The Back:

Britain is a nation of shopkeepers, and the story of corner shops is the story of who we are.

From the general stores of the first half of the 20th century (one of which was run by the father of a certain Margaret Thatcher), to the reimagined corner shops run by immigrants from India, East Africa and Eastern Europe from the 60s to the noughties, their influence has shaped the way we shop, the way we eat, and the way we understand ourselves. 

You can order The Corner Shop: Shopkeepers, The Sharmas And The Making Of Modern Britain by Babita Sharma from Amazon USA,  Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Babita Sharma is a journalist and presenter who grew up with her family above a corner shop in Reading that her parents owned. In this entertaining read she combines memoir with a brief account of immigration to Britain between the 60s and 90s but there isn’t much depth here, I was largely aware of many of the facts presented here (although the personal angle is interesting) and a mistake about when the EU was formed was jarring.

What works well in the book is Sharma’s love for her family and her affection for shop life (even though it appears to have meant a lot of floor mopping). She skilfully incorporates her parents’ experience of emigrating to the UK within the broader social history events of the time and what comes across strongly is how immigration involves hard work and aspiration (which neatly ties in with her account of changes to the retail market, in part brought about by Thatcher and general Thatcherist ambition).

Having grown up in Slough myself, I could relate to her disdain for the place and was impressed at how her dad was able to combine shifts at the Mars factory with helping Sharma’s mother manage the shop. Sharma also does well at sensitively showing the affect that an armed robbery had on her mum’s confidence and the tensions that come from being the daughter of shopkeepers in terms of social position with classmates and other children (a particularly poignant part of the book was where she mentions how she deliberately made her mum make western food when she had friends over because she wanted to fit in).

The timeline in the book does bounce about a fair bit with Sharma moving from period to period, which at times I found a little disorientating. I also found it jarring when she mentioned Spain joining the European Union in 1986 when the EU wasn’t formed until 1993 and it actually joined the EEC. Also, although Sharma diligently footnotes her sources as she sets out the changes in immigration patterns and impact of the same coupled with changes to the retail sector, I’ve read a number of books and seen a number of programmes on these subjects so there wasn’t much that was new to me here and I didn’t feel as if I was picking up anything new.

Ultimately, it’s engaging enough and I kept turning the pages but for me there was nothing new here and while I enjoyed reading about Sharma’s family, I never felt that I really got to know them.

THE CORNER SHOP: SHOPKEEPERS, THE SHARMAS AND THE MAKING OF MODERN BRITAIN was released in the United Kingdom on 18th April 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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