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- Interview with Julie Maxwell
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Taking over the posting for 7 days, Rosie has written on everything from the St. Joseph’s Hospice choir to walking around Whitechapel.
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Return to Whitechapel
JANUARY 7, 2013
by Rosie Dastgir
It is my great delight to welcome Rosie Dastgir as guest writer for the next seven days, celebrating the paperback edition of her wonderful novel A Small Fortune by Quercus. Rosie is a resident of Whitechapel who has recently returned after a seven year sojourn in Brooklyn where she wrote her book and has embraced this opportunity to take a fresh look at her familiar territory. I leave you in her safe hands and I hope readers will enjoy the change of scene delivered by a shift in focus to Spitalfields’ easterly neighbour for the first week of 2013 until I return on 14th January.
Take the tube to Whitechapel and cross over the bridge into the station, and you join a flowing crowd from all corners of London and beyond. There is a magnetic force to the area that draws all manner of people towards it: the teeming street market, the East London Mosque, the supersized new Sainsburys, the Royal London Hospital. Crossrail is coming. Excavation and construction proceed apace, and in a few years, vast numbers will be able to zip from east to west in a matter of minutes. In the Whitechapel Idea Store, Crossrail have set up an exhibition of photographs and exquisite scale models designed to inform us what it is all about. Transformation is certain and yet nobody can say for sure what that might bode for the area, especially for the people who live and work here. What will sink and what will survive?
I lived in Whitechapel for a decade, before moving to Brooklyn, New York, for seven years where I wrote a novel set partly in the East End of London. So it was with a mix of excitement, apprehension and nostalgia that I returned to live here once again last summer. Once the second cheapest property card on the Monopoly board, a deep brown shade with a measly two figure price tag, Whitechapel seems to have morphed and boomed almost beyond recognition. Is it on the cusp of forging a new identity or is it becoming entrenched in its old one?
Whitechapel has come to embody a neighbourhood of two manors: the East London Mosque, which attracts thousands of worshippers, and the newly built Royal London Hospital, a blue and silver edifice with a helipad on top. Both struggle for dominance in the narrow streets that run up and down behind the Whitechapel Road. Both are hubs for huge numbers of people who pour through their doors every day. The mosque’s presence has solidified unabashedly in the last decade, opening up its doors to the public, standing firm in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 7/7. It has withstood media scrutiny while simultaneously growing and nurturing the business of spirituality; a business which seems to be booming in Whitechapel. No longer simply a place of worship, the mosque provides space for a range of amenities – academic study, women’s services, cafes, lectures, housing, playgroups and keep fit classes. It constitutes a way of life.