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The Buddha of Suburbia

May 19, 2008

It is curious to me that I will often begin reading a novel mostly for pleasure and discover that it perfectly fits into something I need for a paper. That is exactly what happened with the novel The Buddha of Suburbia (henceforth TBS) by Hanif Kureishi. The professor for my Post-Colonial Lit. class assigned the short story “My Son the Fanatic” and the movie My Beautiful Laundrette (both written by Kureishi) for class discussion and I ended up writing the primary paper for the class on works by Kureishi (namely TBS, The Black Album, and Intimacy) so it isn’t fair to imply that the reading of TBS was my own idea; but I hadn’t intended to write my paper on him at that point.

I suppose I should start with some biographical information about Kureishi. He was born in England to a Pakistani father and an English mother. His parentage is, in my opinion, the driving force of his characterization. Many of his primary characters have similar parentage and suffer through some form of identity conflict. The main focus of my paper was a juxtaposition of Kureishi’s work with Salman Rushdie’s notion of an imaginary homeland for first generation British emigrants. Kureishi, as a second generation British man, does not experience the same conflicts as Rushdie, as a first generation emigrant author. The three works by Kureishi I covered can be seen as a series of a bildungsroman story of his own life through his chosen characters. It’s difficult to analyze Kureshi because one cannot determine what, in the lives of his characters, belongs to the author’s life and what is imaginary.
Anyway, I’ve been a lit. nerd for long enough, so let’s move on to TBS.
The novel was Kureishi’s literary break-out and was first published in 1990 (My Beautiful Laundrette was released in 1985) and it brought Kureishi into the international spot-light. The novel’s main character is Karim, a young man (16, I believe) living in the London suburbs who has the same parentage as Kureishi. He struggles to find his own place in the suburbs so he decides to move to urban London to try his hand in the theatre. He finds success, but must compromise some of his better judgment along the way. It is an interesting story and an even more fascinating insight into the struggles of a young British-born South Asian man finding his place in a post-colonial world.
ps- The accompanying picture is a shot of Kureishi’s home office and library. I’m quite jealous.
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