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Hanif Kureishi: The Buddha of Suburbia

Kureishi’s first novel inevitably focuses on issues of race but not so much on racial discrimination but on how the child of a mixed marriage can determine what race and nationality he is and with which group he should identify. Karim Amir has a Pakistani father but an English mother. He was born and grew up in England and therefore considers himself to be English. Indeed, he says My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost and it is that almost that is the key to this book. Karim’s father, Haroon, is a low-level civil servant but he is also a flamboyant and flirtatious man, who is also something of a mystic and the Buddha of Suburbia, providing Indian pseudo-mysticism to the English. He leaves the family for the Bohemian Eva. Karim looks up to (and lusts after) Charlie, the English street punk, and Eleanor, the English rose, but he also hangs out with Jamila. She is doing sex and drugs, while her father is trying to arrange a marriage for her in Bombay. She does marry Changez, the man chosen for her, but will not have sex with him.

Kureishi’s story is fast-moving, very funny and gives us a whole host of colourful characters, Indian, English and in-between, from poor Changez, Jamila’s husband, an Indian lost in England and lost in his marriage, to Auntie Jeeta, the Indian princess who now works in a corner shop. Kureishi is a film-maker and this book has a certain filmic style but it works in this novel. If you enjoyed My Beautiful Laundrette, you will enjoy this novel.

Publishing history

First published 1990 by Faber and Faber