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Meet the Author: Sathnam Sanghera - Marriage Material

A few years ago we read the book  “The Boy with  The Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton ” at one of the monthly meetings.  This was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic session when every topic from the book was intensely debated.

Sathnam the Author of the book has written a second book called the “Marriage Material”.  He has kindly agreed to come to our book club to discuss the book and his life as an Author.

The format of the session will be a general Q&A with the Author followed by discussion on marriage and what makes a person marriage material.

The book is available on Amazon and you can download it on the Kindle.

About the Author …

Sathnam Sanghera was born to Punjabi parents in Wolverhampton in 1976. His parents had emigrated to the UK in 1968. He was raised as a Sikh. At the age of ten he worked part-time in a sewing factory. He attended Wolverhampton Grammar School and graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge with a first class degree in English Language and Literature in 1998.

Before becoming a writer Sathnam worked at a burger chain, a hospital laundry, a market research firm, a sewing factory and a literacy project in New York. As a student he worked at the Express and Star in Wolverhampton and dressed up as a "news bunny" for L!VE TV. Between 1998 and 2006 he was a reporter and feature writer for the Financial Times.

He joined The Times as a columnist and feature writer in 2007. He also writes for Management Today magazine.

His web-site

About Marriage Material...“Marriage Material is a satirical masterpiece… razor-sharp… Sanghera is such an engaging and versatile writer that the pages fly by in a flurry of pathos, politics and paratha with extra butter.” The Sunday Telegraph

"Marriage  Material mines rich veins… subtle and often very funny… delicately drawn…  deft sense of irony and self-awareness…tender… a cracking and pacy read.” Meera Syal in The Observer

 “Playful wit infuses the novel… Entertaining…important… absolutely fascinating.” The Independent

“A gem of a multi-generational novel… funny and touching… brilliant chapter structure… a superbly updated version of Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale…. handled throughout with the lightest of touches, so that on reaching the end, you want to begin again to pick up the subtle nuances.” Psychologies 

Review ...

Book Description ...

If you've approached Bains Stores recently, you'd be forgiven for hesitating on doing so. A prominent window advert for a discontinued chocolate bar suggests the shop may have closed in 1994. The security shutters are stuck a quarter-open, adding to the general air of dilapidation. A push or kick of the door triggers something which is more grating car alarm than charming shop bell.

To Arjan Banga, returning to the Black Country after the unexpected death of his father, his family's corner shop represents everything he has tried to leave behind - a lethargic pace of life, insular rituals and ways of thinking. But when his mother insists on keeping the shop open, he finds himself being dragged back, forced into big decisions about his imminent marriage back in London and uncovering the history of his broken family - the elopement and mixed-race marriage of his aunt Surinder, the betrayals and loyalties, loves and regrets that have played out in the shop over more than fifty years.

Taking inspiration from Arnold Bennett's classic novel The Old Wives' Tale, Marriage Material tells the story of three generations of a family through the prism of a Wolverhampton corner shop - itself a microcosm of the South Asian experience in the country: a symbol of independence and integration, but also of darker realities.

This is an epic tale of family, love, and politics, spanning the second half of the twentieth century, and the start of the twenty-first. Told with humour, tenderness and insight, it manages to be both a unique and urgent survey of modern Britain by one of Britain's most promising young writers, and an ingenious reimagining of a classic work of fiction. 

Reviews from Goodreads ...

Sixty two year old Mr. Bains, and his , more or less forty-five year old wife, Mrs. Bains ran a shop in Victoria Road in Wolverhampton where they raised their two daughters, Kamaljit, the oldest, and Surinder, the younger more intelligent of the two sisters. England was not a friendly place for immigrants from their former colonies and succeeding in the new country took determination and skill on many levels.

The Sikh religious group were left out when India was partitioned into Pakistan for the Muslim and India for the rest of the people. It led to many of them feeling robbed of their rights and moving to England in the hope of establishing their own homeland, with their caste system and culture intact. However, within the group there was social differences since many of the lower casts members, like Tanvir Banja, a Chanmar boy, immigrated to England to free themselves of this class discrimination, although Tanvir would be employed by Mr. Bains in Bains Stores as a servant again. But events would lead to Tanvir managing to get married to Kamaljit of a higher caste, which would free him at last to become the man he always wanted to be.

The story consists of two parallel narratives being intertwined throughout the book, both starting with the death of the male heads of their households - first Mr. Bains, and then Tanvir Banja, his son-in-law. The tales circle around the women left behind, especially the outcome of the circumstances in which the two girls would have to face hostilities and challenges within their Sikh communities as well as from their hostile white English neighbors in town. At one point the shop doors did not have 'tingling bells' but grating alarms.

At first it was extremely confusing to figure this out since both narratives evolve around the same characters and the same shop, but forty years apart. Tanvir and Kamaljit had a son, Arjan(the narrator of the second tale), who were brought up in the liberal views of his father, Tanvir, and who would clash with the principles and fundamentalist traditions of Dhanda and his son Ranjit. Dhanda was Mr. Bains's closest friend, who, with the latter's help, set up shop with the agreement that they would never become competition for one another. Dhanda was a political activist fighting for the rights of the Indian immigrants to wear their traditional head gear, for children being taught their homeland languages, for Indian cultural events to be allowed in British schools. But he was also a thrifty businessman becoming quite wealthy, while Mr. Bains, and afterwards Tanvir, his son-in-law, would not benefit from the agreement at all.

The reader is never sure what will happen next, and will sit back in awe at the surprising ending.
This is a remarkable tale, very well-written, bathed in the social-, political challenges, cultural debates, interracial relationships, love, cruelty and often satire of this beautiful family. If you have enjoyed Zadie Smith's "White Teeth" you will absolutely love this book as well. I recommend it with an open mind and heart.


In this retelling of Arnold Bennett's "The Old Wives' Tale," Sathnam Sanghera has deftly spun a story that is as much about shop life and family dynamics as it is about the immigrant experience during a deeply racist time in British history.

Told from two time periods and perspectives, we are first placed into the present day and introduced to Arjan who has returned to his childhood home of Wolverhampton to run he family shop after the sudden death of his father. He finds himself giving up his London job as a graphic designer (a disappointment to his father and himself) and letting his engagement to Freya, a white girl, fall to the wayside.

The second narrative goes back to the 1960s to Arjan's mother Kamaljit and her sister, Surinder, teenagers helping run their parents' newsagent. Their father, after working many years alone in England, was finally able to send for his wife and daughters only to become bedridden and overbearing. His dying wish was to have his daughters married off -- Kamaljit who never liked school and had only a basic grasp of English seemed resigned, but Surinder wanted more for her life. When she overhears a conversation her mother has with her father's friend asking for her hand, Surinder takes fate into her own hands and disappears.

While there is nothing new in this story in terms of familial expectations and ties, newcomer experiences, and racism, Sanghera is able to tell this story with a sense of irony and deep love that makes this story very readable and heartfelt.

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  • Raj

    unfortunately I could not attend....Oh well such is life! looking forward to the next event. Rx

    April 10, 2014

  • Sheila C

    Good book; funny, insightful, touching..... Interesting talking to the author..... Well organised...... As often is the case with this club, the best bit was the company

    1 · April 6, 2014

  • Hina

    Sorry I cant make it before 3:30

    April 5, 2014

  • Vineet

    Hello all, central line is not working this weekend , but that should be no excuse for coming late

    April 5, 2014

  • Vineet

    Hello All, A number of people have asked me, if this event is still on! Is Sathman finally going to turn up? The answer is yes he has confirmed (Although he said he has a cold and high fever but will not cancel). So my deal with him is that we wont ask him any difficult questions and we will do most of the talking. Please Please try and come on time. It is going to be a full house this time and people walking in late is disruptive. After the book club, I have not made any specific bookings for dinner, The Author is not free in the evening and he needs to leave latest by 6:30, so the intention this time is to hang around the Heights bar as long as people want to, I or they wont be trying to rush any of us this time. People who do want to go for a meal after works the proposal is to pop down to the Pizza express next door.

    April 4, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Gutted I can't make it, only just got a notification (30 March, a week is pretty short). Would love to have been there, really enjoyed his first book. And have mixed views on some of his commentary published in national newspapers.

    March 30, 2014

  • Betty B.

    I'm so up set!! I was really looking forward to attending as his book is fantastic:(

    March 30, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Unfortunately, I can't make 5th April. Please accept my apologies.

    March 28, 2014

  • Asha

    Gutted! I have theatre plans on the 5th April

    March 27, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I have already read the book so it's a pity I can't make this date after it changed :-(.

    February 28, 2014

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