The Birmingham Collection


Chosen by Farhana

Sunny the Indian Datsun was born in Japan to Japanese parents, but is actually English. That’s what Sunny’s owner, Stuart, reckons. But when Stuart’s banged up for a crime that might have something to do with a fondness for swastikas and Mein Kampf, luckily there’s a nice Indiana Jones-loving/hating Gujarati family who are happy to take the car keys...

So begins the first story in Wersha Bharadwa’s The Birmingham Collection, AKA ‘Funny stories for unsettling times’ - and the subtitle is spot-on. From 1980s four-wheel status symbols and blockbuster films, to modern day casting call woes for South Asian actors, to ancient history, to futuristic outer space travel and beyond, this warm and witty collection is bags of fun.

Speaking of warm and witty, Wersha’s varied and award-nominated writing has appeared in a range of publications from The Guardian to Cosmopolitan. She is also a playwright, lecturer, and a creative writing workshop leader for schools and organisations including disadvantaged communities and arts organisations. #WeStan.

In fact, some of these multi-faceted skills are wonderfully and hilariously displayed by the protagonist of the middle story in the collection, ‘Living History’. 'The casting notice said: "British Asian actors needed to play specific individuals from history" [...] And I audition, but am just not peachy-skinned enough for most of the BBC, ITV and Netflix period dramas...' so opens the story, which throws more than a bit of shade as we are taken on a hilarious whistle-stop tour through the contributions – and misconceptions – revealed by the curators and visitors of such exhibits.

These themes are expanded further in the last story, ‘This is Earth’, in which a member of a more enlightened alien civilization decides to organize an intervention on our planet. “On Earth they have a long way to go. They’ve even had to construct a word for the need to treat males and females equally: Feminism. It’s pretty messed up down there...” Cue an impromptu gate-crash of the G8 Summit in order to fight the patriarchy. Via a pani puri pit-stop at Junaghar Sweet Centre in Birmingham. Yum.

A playful collection with a strong and inventive voice, The Birmingham Collection is a deceptively lighthearted read that's perfect for #LockdownReading and beyond, but is also an up-to-the-minute exploration of big themes, and moves effortlessly in tone from endearing, to deliciously dark, to infinitely hopeful, and everything in between. Enjoy!

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