Take It Back Reader Playlist

Kia | Kia Abdullah

I was recently at a literary festival when a fellow author told me he had just finished reading Take It Back. ‘It’s dark,’ he said, his voice dropping low as if sharing a secret. ‘Really dark.’

I was surprised because this author writes gritty crime novels set in the deep underbelly of one of Britain’s roughest cities. Surely he wasn’t fazed by my novel.

On reflection, however, I realised that guns and fights and car chases are not dark in the same way as the material in Take It Back. Set in East London, the novel follows the case of 16-year-old Jodie Wolfe who accuses four classmates of rape. Jodie is white and the four boys are from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds – a fact that ignites a tinderbox of tension in the streets of East London.

Zara Kaleel, a barrister turned rape counsellor, takes on Jodie’s case and together they enter the most explosive criminal trial of the year.

I was hesitant to create a playlist for the readers of Take It Back given the complex issues in the novel, but music is a powerful art form and I really think that this list captures the essence of East London and the material in the book. It is dark in parts, but it’s also hopeful.

Complete playlist

Click the three bars to expand the song list.

Song-by-song breakdown

Note: If you already have a copy of Take It Back, you can expand the ‘Find the scene’ section beneath each song to locate the specific scene it relates to most closely. The page numbers correspond to the UK editions of the book. In some cases, the text specified next to ‘Ebook’ appears a few lines after the actual start of the scene to avoid spoilers.

1. This Woman’s Work, Kate Bush

For me, This Woman’s Work captures the scene in which Zara asks Jodie to recount what happened on the night in question. The song is haunting, sparse but utterly staggering. Kate Bush’s extraordinary voice set to a plaintive piano perfectly sets the tone for what a real-life scene like this might be like.

The lines ‘I know you have a little life in you yet, I know you have a lot of strength left’ are so unbearably moving that I sometimes skip this song when listening to music in public.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 1, page 13
Ebook: ‘She glanced up, taking just a beat too long to respond.’

2. Paper Planes, M.I.A.

I think the video for this was filmed in New York but, to me, M.I.A represents London through and through.

This song with its playful mish-mash of styles captures the exuberance of young male friendship. The chorus of kids chanting, cash registers popping open and guns firing, coupled with ‘no one on the corner has swagger like us’, speaks to a specific type of posturing found on the streets of East London.

The song perfectly captures the friendship between Amir, Hassan, Mo and Farid, the four ‘antagonists’ in the novel.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 2, page 46
Ebook: ‘Najim Rashid scanned the hall and spotted the four boys in a corner.’

3. Bengali in Platforms, Morrissey

This is the first (and only) song that has made me feel small. My parents are immigrants from Bangladesh and I find parts of this song quietly devastating.

The paternalism of ‘he only wants to impress you’ combined with the casual xenophobia of ‘life is hard enough when you belong here’ is genuinely upsetting.

I debated whether or not to include this in the playlist, but the song perfectly demonstrates the problematic attitude so many held (hold?) towards first-generation immigrants to this country.

For me, Bengali in Platforms bears out the experience of Farid’s father, Hashim, who can’t help but fear the white man.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 3, page 51
Ebook: ‘Hashim Khan hurried up the stairs but failed to catch the door held briefly open.’

4. This Is What Makes Us Girls, Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey has a rather bleak view of female friendship, but in the case of Jodie and her best friend (Nina), she gets it spot on.

There’s a line in this song – ‘This is what makes us girls, we don’t stick together cause we put love first’ – that cleanly captures the uneasiness of young female friendship and the fierce intimacy that slips easily into animosity given the right circumstances.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 3, page 85
Ebook: ‘Nina Sahari was on her back.’

5. Use Somebody, Kings Of Leon

Sex in fiction is a tricky beast. It’s so easy to slip into bathos. One ill-placed phrase or clunky metaphor and you completely ruin the mood.

I think (hope) that the scene between Zara and her lover works well, but of course that’s up to the reader to decide.

For me, the restlessness and yearning in this song encapsulates what Zara is looking for when she finds herself in his riverside apartment.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 7, page 242
Ebook: ‘Her nerves jangled in the sudden stillness.’

6. Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin

Strangely enough, I didn’t choose this song for its title (appropriate given the themes of the book) but that otherworldly howl of Robert Plant’s. It’s what I imagine panic to sound like.

There’s a scene in the novel where Zara thinks she’s being followed. This song distils what I might feel if I were walking home alone at night and heard some footsteps echoing mine.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 9, page 313
Ebook: ‘Cold tonight, yes, miss?’

7. Porcelain, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Call me basic if you will, but Anthony Kiedis’s voice is one of my favourite of all time. On Porcelain, it’s delicate and mournful and moving.

This song sets the tone for a scene towards the end of the novel in which Zara explains to her mother why she won’t heed her advice.

“Can’t you see, Mum? Oppression doesn’t spread through men with guns, or bombs on trains. Oppression spreads when women like you tell their daughters to marry a certain man, or wear a certain dress, or work a certain job. It happens when women like you tell us ­– gently and with all the love in the world – not to peek above the parapet, instead to stay at home, to be quiet, to be kind, to be good.

Zara Kaleel in Take It Back

I didn’t want the scene to be a dramatic confrontation, rather a painful but gentle conversation between a mother and daughter. Porcelain captures the tone perfectly.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 9, page 316
Ebook: ‘The early dawn light filtered through curtains that were not quite closed.’

8. Galvanize, The Chemical Brothers

Tribalism is one of the themes I wanted to explore in Take It Back.

In the novel, Zara’s family can’t fathom why she would pitch herself against four Muslim boys given the fact that she herself is Muslim. This sort of extreme loyalty, or indeed tribalism, is something I have seen and experienced in real life, and that I wanted to examine in fiction.

This song symbolises Zara’s decision to keep fighting for Jodie despite others’ best efforts to stop her. For me, it represents pulling on your slickest suit, your best set of fuck-off-heels and a bulletproof sense of confidence, and setting out to face the world.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 10, page 322
Ebook: ‘Zara twisted open the cap and gripped the base of the brown glass bottle.’

9. London Calling, The Clash

I don’t think there’s a band that captures London better than The Clash. Political activism, gallows humour and a guerilla spirit are three things that define my home city and all are used to great effect on this masterly anthem.

London Calling speaks to an apocalyptic version of the city – ‘London is drowning, and I, I live by the river!’ – and effectively captures the violent fallout in my fictional version of London as Jodie’s case progresses through the courts.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 10, page 327
Ebook: ‘Zara was now on her feet, her grip tight on Safran’s arm.’

10. Intro, The xx

Some of the songs on this playlist belong to Jodie and some belong to Zara, but this one belongs to Farid, one of the four boys who stand accused.

Farid is described as ‘serious and studious, but rarely melancholic’. As the case progresses, however, he finds himself in a sort of miasma.

This song captures Farid’s journey as he grapples with the fallout from that fateful night.

“How did it come to this? It was this single thought that would cross his mind again and again over the next four months. It would settle cold and thick over his throat at night. It would snake through his sinuses as he lay in his bath, it would pitch him over on the football field, webbing itself across the balls of his feet.”

Take It Back

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 10, page 329
Ebook: ‘Its icy whip was calming and he let it buffet his skin.’

11. Hurt, Johnny Cash

This song breaks my heart. Originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails, this version by Johnny Cash is made all the more potent by its video.

A brutal portrait of self-loathing, Hurt captures Jodie at her nadir. The bleakness in Cash’s voice, the sparseness of the notes, is something close to devastating.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 10, page 351
Ebook: ‘Zara turned into the Wentworth Estate.’

12. Don’t Give Up, Peter Gabriel feat. Kate Bush

Many readers have asked if there will be a sequel to Take It Back and while there will be a second book with Zara, it won’t include Jodie.

These two characters have such a strong and intense relationship, it does feel strange that they won’t see each other again – but of course that’s how professional relationships work.

“Do you think I was this way at sixteen? Women aren’t born warriors; we learn to fight because we have to.”

Zara Kaleel in Take It Back

This song represents Zara’s fierce support of Jodie and her hope that she will have a good life beyond the end of the novel.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 11, page 362
Ebook: ‘Zara rang the bell and stood back as if expecting a blow.’

13. Lose Yourself, Eminem

There’s a thread in the novel about ‘Zara the Brave’ which represents Zara at her most extreme: staunch, forceful, unshakable. Sometimes it’s used humorously – by friends and siblings to lampoon her ‘alpha’ personality; at others, it’s employed seriously to bolster her in moments of crisis.

When Eminem asks ‘If you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?‘, it’s Zara the Brave that steps up to the plate.

If Immigrant Song is the sound of Zara’s panic, then Lose Yourself is the sound of her standing up to life.

Find the scene

Hardback/paperback: Chapter 11, page 372
Ebook: ‘All those words. All the thousands of words they had shared.’


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