the buddha of suburbia

No, sorry, this post isn’t actually about Bowie. It’s about the novel, of the same name, written by Hanif Kureishi. But Bowie wrote the soundtrack to the TV adaptation, so here you go. Enjoy.

The Buddha of Suburbia is the first novel written by Hanif Kureishi. Published in 1990 by Faber & Faber, it is the story of Karim Amir, ‘an Englishman born and bred, almost’.

Set in the 1970s in South London, the novel follows Karim as his parents separate (as his father has fallen in love with the esoteric and effervescent Eva), he slightly falls in love with Eva’s son Charlie, he gets up to all sorts of nonsense with girls, and finds a career in the theatre in London and New York.

The novel realistically portrays the racism of London in the 70s, and takes care to give huge variation in the depiction of its Indian characters. Karim’s father takes advantage of the ‘exoticism’ of the East as he dresses in silk pyjamas and leads meditations in order to hoist himself into the wonderful echelons of upper-middle class society. His friend Jamila rebels against the colonisation of British education, committing herself to the countercultural revolution of Angela Davis and other feminist icons. Jamila’s parents Jeeta and Anwar pay little attention to the outside world, but focus on their grocery store, and Jamila’s impending arranged marriage. Through the huge variety of ever-evolving characters, the novel’s conception of race is never static, never stereotyped, and never neglected.
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The novel is very consciously working class. Eva and Karim’s father are made ridiculous in their aspirations to middle-class-dom, and then the pretentious world of the culturally elite. The final scene takes place in an extremely expensive restaurant – there are great descriptions of the posh clothes, posh surroundings, and the posh people. However, it is only the announcement of an engagement that truly brings happiness to the event. I’m not saying it’s saccharine or wraps everything nicely in a bow, but although everything was a ‘mess’, there is the hope that ‘it wouldn’t always be that way’.

The writing itself is engaging, humorous, and perfectly captures Karim’s restless and disillusioned voice. I have an incredibly small amount of patience, but I never found myself growing bored, despite the novel’s rather meandering plot. The one problem I had with it was that the time-scale was not very clear. This might have been me not paying enough attention, but near the end of the novel Karim states that he is nearly forty years old – I had thought he was in his mid-20s! But that’s a minor thing.

I would highly recommend ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’. Explicit and outrageous and politically aware, I will definitely be reading Kureishi’s other works.

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