Anansi International Imprint Logo

Pigeon English

Written by Stephen Kelman

  • 288 Pages
  • 9781770890237
  • FICTION / Literary



Publication Date March 12, 2011

"Pigeon English is a triumph." -- Emma Donoghue, author of Room

Shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and the 2011 Guardian First Book Award

Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate in London, England. The second-best runner in his grade, Harri races through his new life in his personalized trainers -- the Adidas stripes drawn on with black marker -- blissfully unaware of the very real threat around him.

With equal fascination for the local gang -- the Dell Farm Crew --and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements that surround him: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of inner-city survival. But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own, unwittingly endangering the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to keep them safe.

A deeply funny, moving, and unforgettable story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.

Short-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2011

Short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award 2011

Selected for the Toronto Star Reviewers' Top 100 Books 2011

Long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2013


Stephen Kelman
Stephen Kelman was born in Luton in 1976. After finishing his degree he worked variously as a warehouse operative, a careworker, and in marketing and local government administration. He decided to pursue his writing seriously in 2005, and has completed several feature screenplays since then. Pigeon English is his first novel; he is currently working on his second. He lives in Bedfordshire, England.


"Told with humour, despite the gritty subject matter and setting...Pigeon English charms its way into some hard places..." Financial Times

"Stephen Kelman’s [first novel] has a powerful story, a pacy plot and engaging characters. It paints a vivid portrait with honesty, sympathy and wit, of a much neglected milieu, and it addresses urgent social questions. It is horrifying, tender and funny. [. . .] Pigeon English will be read by millions." Telegraph

". . . exceptional . . . Opoku’s plight is both heart-warming and heartbreaking." The List

"Harrison Opoku, the 11-year-old Ghanaian boy who is the narrator of this very fine coming-of-age novel, may well be about to take his place among other well-loved children in literature. [. . .] To be moved to care this deeply for a fictional character is a rare experience." Winnipeg Free Press

"Kelman blends Ghanaian slang such as "Asweh" ("I swear") and "hutious" ("frightening") with familiar London-ese to fresher and funnier effect. [. . .] Pigeon English does an admirable job of revealing the frightened teenage boys behind gang members' tough facades." Guardian

"Most novels aren’t as imaginative, gut-wrenching and powerful as Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, and this one is Kelman’s first. It’s immediately engaging, and it doesn’t let go. [. . .] Pigeon English is an amazing novel. It’s a window on a world many of us will never experience (thankfully), and it is beautifully and intelligently written." Edmonton Journal

"Kelman has created an endearing character at once foreign yet familiar . . . Pigeon English is a mesmerizing tale of naïveté and discovery that has us rooting on the sidelines, hoping that Harri will triumph." Rover Arts

"Pigeon English convincingly evokes life on the edge as lived by many British children today; the humour, the resilience, the sheer ebullience of its narrator -- a hero for our times -- should ensure the book becomes, deservedly, a classic." Daily Mail

"Filled with energy, humour and compassion, Pigeon English is a gut-wrenchingly sad novel that makes you laugh out loud." Guardian

". . . a very impressive debut . . ." Toronto Star

". . . an authentic and audacious first novel . . . It will be a while before the buzz about [Kelman] dies down." Scotsman

". . . a tour de force . . . Funny and poignant, Pigeon English is fired with an uncontainable spirit, a rare distillate of boyhood optimism and adult wisdom." Maclean's

"Kelman has crafted a book that soars." Chronicle Herald

". . . engaging . . . Kelman's dead-on evocation of the horrors and freedoms of an inner-city childhood deserves attention." Telegraph

". . . chilling and charming . . . [Pigeon English is] a coming-of-age tale that feels achingly accurate." Globe and Mail

"A violent and riveting coming of age story, Stephen Kelman's debut novel also contains well-timed moments of comedy, affecting family drama, and just enough hopefulness to dilute the setting's biting flavour of despair." Vancouver Sun

". . . something of a phenomenon . . ." Buffalo News

"[Stephen Kelman] took a real-life knife murder of an immigrant boy a decade ago as his starting point, but the youth he created is distinctly and wonderfully his own." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

". . . riveting . . ." Christian Science Monitor

"... a topical novel with a great narrative voice ... the ending will crush you." Uptown Winnipeg

"Few writers nail a voice as well as Stephen Kelman does ..." Geez Magazine