EVENT REVIEW: Thom Brooks and Gulwali Passarlay: Becoming British

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8th October
Palace Green Library

Review by Gabriel Brown

This event certainly opened my mind to pertinent issues like refugees and citizenship.

The event told the stories of both Gulwali Passarlay and Thom Brooks, who came to England from two different backgrounds. While the contrast between the two is startling, both men aimed for the same thing: UK citizenship.

The format of the event, which offered both talks from Gulwali and Thom, as well as audience questions worked well. My only criticism of the whole thing is that I think the two of them could have done with an event each so we could hear more, because they both had so many interesting things to say.

Gulwali recited the story of his journey to England. The way he described it was both beautiful and heartbreaking, outlining how he managed to keep faith and hope despite the horrifying circumstances. The particular point that stuck in my mind was that he had almost drowned at sea; he said that, while he didn’t mind dying, it couldn’t be at sea because his mother would never know what happened to him.

I liked this event so much that I bought the book after it; the speakers were so interesting and I wanted to hear more of their stories in greater detail.

I really liked Thom’s insights on the UK citizenship test, where you apparently have to know how tall the London Eye is! (And for the record it’s apparently 444ft tall.)

This event really gave me a unique insight into the huge challenges people face assimilating into British society, both legally and socially. It helped me truly realise not only the difficulties people face in gaining citizenship, but also the wider repercussions this has on people’s lives.

Becoming British was insightful, entertaining and much more.

Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit