Among the Hoods
Published in July 2012, Among the Hoods describes my friendship with a teenage gang, and in particular the gang leader Tuggy Tug, which began when I was researching a report on why so many black Caribbean and white working class boys are failing.
It was an unlikely friendship. I am a middle class, middle-aged white woman who writes for the right-wing press and a right-of-centre think tank. Gangs like Tuggy Tug’s are responsible for the majority of crime in our inner cities. During the riots of August 2011, they were the young men setting our streets ablaze.
Over the next three years I became more and more involved with the boys. All the issues I had read about – single mothers, absent fathers, lack of education and social mobility, the criminal justice system – suddenly took on new meaning as I encountered not just Tuggy Tug and his gang but their relatives and friends. I got to know their world and saw institutions through their eyes. It was a revelation.
The book describes a dramatic three years. By the end, Tuggy Tug was found guilty of committing over a hundred street robberies. He and two other gang members are in prison, one is in mental hospital and one appears to be a successful criminal. I describe how the friendship changed me and investigate the forces that turn potentially decent young men into misfits and criminals.
‘Wonderful … What Harriet Sergeant conveys subtly, yet with anger, is how the gangs behaviour makes crazy sense. It is a satire on the arrangements of the welfare state in which they are trapped.’
Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
‘Harriet Sergeant is no frothy Lady Bountiful. She shares George Orwell’s clarity and integrity and his readiness to mix with those he seeks to understand. Among The Hoods is a book written in anger, but born of patience and concern. It would be a terrible shame if it were dismissed as another reactionary rant. Those on the Left, Right and centre could all learn from it. In fact, if they refuse to learn from it, another generation of marginalised youngsters will surely be doomed.’
Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
‘If you only read one book on gangs, let this be it.’
Shaun Bailey, Evening Standard
‘A candid, and deeply affecting, report of one woman’s encounter with a street gang. By the end of the book, and a story which has taken all of these boys further down their terrible path, Sergeant realises that, in the battle between the ‘legit’ world and the criminal one they live in to survive, she’s ‘on their side’. By the end, we are too. If you read it, it will make you cry. It will take a lot more than tears to salvage the lives of these children we betray, but someone caring would, at least, be a start.‘
Christina Patterson, Independent
Faber and Faber; Main edition (4 April 2013)
Between the Lines
Conversations in South Africa
I spent ten months in South Africa during the apartheid regime. I interviewed South Africa’s black, Indian, Coloured and white inhabitants in an effort to discover what it is like to live in an immoral society. What are the choices one has to make and how are they made? As well as interviewing extensively, I lived with an Indian family in Durban for a month and helped on a documentary for Dutch TV about the then nascent black trade union movement which was to play such an important role in the over throw of the apartheid regime.
‘A remarkable achievement and a notable feat of observation. Harriet Sergeant has told a sad and bitter story well’
‘The book is concerned with the way people open their hearts, and the turns of phrase are caught with considerable skill‘
‘The voices Ms Sergeant records ring true both in their passions and their evasions‘
Jonathan Cape, London, 1985
A History of Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s
In the 1920s and ‘30s Shanghai was the most international city the world has ever seen. It was also ‘The Whore of the Orient’, home to gangsters and warlords, nightclubs that never closed and hotels that supplied heroin on room service. It became the epitome of glamour, immortalised in books and films – both Western and Chinese. It was the city where the protagonists of the Second World War sat on the same Municipal Council and attended the same nightclubs. Shanghai was also at the centre of events shaping China’s history during this period. With its bustling and polyglot population of British, Chinese, Americans, French, Germans, Japanese and White Russians, its extremes of poverty and wealth, it appeared to straddle East and West. By the time the Chinese Communist take-over of 1949, Shanghai had passed into legend. This book is divided up between the nationalities who contributed most to the city and the battles of 1927,1932 and 1937 which destroyed it. There is a section on the Chinese, the British and the White Russians. Under the Chinese section I look at the lives of the very poor in the International Settlement, the birth of the Chinese film industry and Lu Xun and the role of the Chinese artist.
This book is a combination of interviews with Shanghai’s former inhabitants from that era – all, sadly, now dead – and extensive research over five years. Both interviews and research were carried out in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Shanghai.
‘A vivid portrait of Shanghai in its prime‘
J. G. Ballard
‘A completely fascinating book‘
‘Beautifully chronicled, a cautionary narrative of great charm and great compassion‘
‘Harriet Sergeant pulls back the curtain on the people who made Shanghai synonymous with wondrous excess‘
Wall Street Journal
Jonathan Cape, London, 1991
(Also published in the USA by Random House and translated into Japanese and published in Japan.)
An Englishwoman in Japan
I lived in Tokyo, Japan for seven years. This is a book of my experiences based on articles written for the Sunday Times and the Spectator.
John Murray, London, 1994
(Also translated into Danish)