This review is written with thanks to Pigeonhole for the opportunity to read and review One Of Them.
Musa Okwonga – a young Black man who grew up in a predominantly working-class town – was not your typical Eton College student.
The experience moulded him, challenged him… but also made him wonder why a place that was so good for him also seems to contribute to the harm being done to the UK. The more he searched, the more evident the connection became between one of Britain’s most prestigious institutions and the genesis of Brexit, and between his home town in the suburbs of Greater London and the rise of the far right.
Woven throughout this deeply personal and unflinching memoir of Musa’s five years at Eton in the 1990s is a present-day narrative which engages with much wider questions about pressing social and political issues: privilege, the distribution of wealth, the rise of the far right in the UK, systemic racism, the ‘boys’ club’ of government and the power of the few to control the fate of the many. One of Them is both an intimate account and a timely exploration of race and class in modern Britain.
I was very interested in the premise of One Of Them and I looked forward to learning more about an environment that is largely closed to me and the information I know is mostly gleaned from news reports. Okwonga does let us into this world and it is eye opening. His writing style is simple and the book is very accessible. However, there is very little name dropping and the tone feels quite distant. I’m not sure if this is because the author struggles to let others into his life (this is something that he discusses in the book) or out of respect for his peers. This is not the right book for gossip about the teenage exploits of the rich and famous, but I did learn something from it.
Okwonga is not from a background that you would typically associate with an Eton student. He is black, his mother is a single parent and he lives in one of the less affluent areas of London. Throughout his time at school, he is acutely aware of this and in One Of Them, he reflects on the racism he encountered and his reluctance to allow his classmates to see where he lived. The incidents of racism make uncomfortable reading in parts of the book but his message is incredibly important.
One Of Them is available from Amazon.