I was lucky enough to receive a copy of My Beautiful England by Michelle Flatley through a Mumsnet giveaway recently. The book is published by Cutting Edge Press.
My Beautiful England tells the story of 3 women who emigrate to England – Su (Sumalee) from Thailand, Lenka from Poland and Sammy (Samina) from Pakistan. They all face difficulties in their new lives with differences in culture, language and family complications.
I was drawn into this book from the first page. My Beautiful England starts with an introduction to Su, in Patong, Thailand. Su is a widow of the tsunami in her forties. I’ve been to Patong (pre-tsunami) and stayed in one of the beachfront hotels, just like the one Su worked in.
I was in Malaysia when the tsunami hit on Boxing Day 2004 and this book bought back all the memories of that time. Luckily for me, I was up in the Cameron Heights when it struck. We had no phone signal and were completely oblivious to the devastation until the next day, on our drive down to Penang.
I can remember seeing people standing by their ruined beach shack homes, seeing boats in very strange positions, and knowing that actually Penang had been spared the worst of the crisis. We sat in tears watching news reports from Thailand, a country I adore, Patong and Phuket in general, an area I love. We saw footage from Sri Lanka, a hotel underwater – a hotel we had actually been to. We weren’t allowed to go into the sea, we watched helicopters overhead searching, searching. I remember the phone call to my parents, who were beside themselves with worry.
So reading of Su and her survival of the tsunami and the loss of her husband and mother had me enraptured. The nightmare images she lived with and her need to escape, to have a new life away from the sea, away from the memories. I had just a tiny understanding of how she must have felt. Su is in her forties and has not been able to have children, she works in a hotel and wants a new life in England, she is going to be a Thai bride. Her husband is much older, not her dream man, the wedding is not her dream wedding, but she dreams of green fields, big gardens with nice houses and Buckingham Palace. She ends up in Burnley, in a terraced house with a back yard, in winter. A bit of a culture shock.
She needs to learn English and joins a course at the local language centre. It’s there that she meets Lenka and Sammy. The three become firm friends and provide support for each other as they adjust to life in England.
Lenka has a daughter and has been in a woman’s refuge after being violently assaulted by her partner, again. Lenka lives in fear of the past, fear that she will be found. Sammy had an arranged marriage, is 18 and desperately wants to be free. Free to wear English clothes, free to go where she pleases, free to say and do what she wants.
I never like to tell the whole story, I always feel you should read a book yourself. All I will say is that I couldn’t put this book down. There is great sadness in the pages of My Beautiful England, but also great hope. A story of unlikely friendship and support in times of need. A story of courage and strength. I really enjoyed reading this book and will be looking out for future books by Michelle Flatley.