The Battle of Cable Street

Written by Sara Mulvanny (trans.) Tanya Landman
Review by Ann Lazim

In Stepney, London, in 2020, Elsie looks back on her youth in the 1930s, when Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists were on the rise. This retrospective device allows for the inclusion of historical details and hindsight and conveying complexity that would be more difficult to achieve if it were presented as a contemporary account written by a young girl. Through Elsie’s eyes readers see how political views evolved among people living in London’s East End during this period, particularly the Jewish and Irish communities, to both of which she belongs through the respective heritages of her grandparents.

Shifting loyalties are shown and charismatic local characters introduced, including Elsie’s close friend Nathan Cohen, a member of the Young Communist League, who becomes a leading local anti-fascist. Using the strong voice of Elsie, Tanya Landman evokes a vivid picture of the East End in the build-up to the events of Sunday, 4th October 1936, when local people courageously banded together, despite opposition from police and politicians, to prevent the fascists from marching through their area.

Both the author and the narrator realise that, while the fight was won then, the danger from fascism is raising its ugly head once again in current times. The author comments in an afterword that, while she was taught about Hitler and the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy at school, she was not made aware of the threat it posed within Britain at that time and recognises the importance of making this story more known.

This is an accessible short novel aimed at readers of 12+ from a writer who has a good reputation for bringing working class and Black history to life, including her 2015 Carnegie Medal winner Buffalo Soldier.