The Buddha of Suburbia Paperback – 8 Apr 1991
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There was one copy going round our school like contraband. I read it in one sitting ... I'd never read a book about anyone remotely like me before. (Zadie Smith) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi's first novel, is the bizarre, often hilarious, and totally original picture of the life of a young Pakistani man growing up in 1970s Britain. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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Class is an important theme, as is race, but the latter is not made the focus of the book. The differences between the lives and values of the different social classes in Britain are shown to be as big and difficult to bridge as those of race. I liked that the novel took a different angle on the popular culture-clash issue, and presented it in a fresh and original way.
Karim's narrative voice is full of dry wit, and the characters are wonderfully described. Even though some were eccentric, all were believable. The book spans a number of years and is very well paced, showing how characters grow and develop - or stay the same - over time. It is always interesting and entertaining, and you're never too sure what will happen next, although it's not gripping in the conventional thriller sense. Just a minor warning - there's a lot of sex and drugs and punk music - the first quite graphic in places - so the easily offended reader may wish to think again. But it was nothing unreasonable and nothing worse than you'll find in many modern novels.
If you want a book that is funny and that will make you think, this will do the job nicely. It's particularly strong for saying it's a first novel, and I'd be keen to read Kureishi's subsequent works.
Some on this site complain about a lack of a plot. Well, I suppose they'd say the same of The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis, it's that sort of narrative. Mainly, it's about a young suburban teenager, Karim, who finds his cosy existance blown apart when his dad, a first generation immigrant who never quite made good, is coopted by the charismatic and ambitious Eva into giving lectures of buddhism and enlightenment. The book is wonderfully observed, and it charts the way Karim hopes to use the tailwind of this development to get away from the boring, suburban life and taste the exotism of the city. There are some very funny lines here, but it's true that the lead narrater doesn't propel events, usually stuff happens to him.
Being a bloke, I'd call it out for a couple of things. Firstly, the narrator has a superiority complex. This is amusing if you also have a bit of a superiority complex. Just about everyone he meets, he skewers in the prose, although of course if Karim were such a naive fellow, coming of age, he wouldn't be that insightful. Really, it's the author who is delivering these verdicts. It is a very satisfying method, it's the old Clark Kent/Superman duality, where one minute you can step out of your put-upon self and feel supreme. Even PG Wodehouse did it, as a lot of the very funny lines ('She had a laugh like the cavalry crossing a tin bridge') would be beyond a chump like Bertie Wooster. To be fair, Karim would be the sort who slyly keeps his own counsel about certain types, a goalhanger in life.
Secondly, the sex is a bit out there. Kureishi seems to using promiscuous sex to turn on the reader, fair enough, but it's as if he being less well observed here. I'm not sure the type of bloke we have depicted here would get it so much, even if he is good looking. Certainly he's very relaxed about his bisexuality, there never seems to be any doubt if another bloke will be up for it.
Thirdly, the timeline is a bit out of wack. The events seem to call for a story over a two-year period, but we go from Beatles Abbey Road period to Bowie, then punk and The Pretenders. The Pretenders only got going in 1978! The author's reach seems to exceed his grasp, as if he's aiming for an epic along the lines of Our Friends in the North. I wasn't too sold on one of the characters becoming a major rock star either, it breaks the suspension of disbelief, we know it didn't happen, unless it's true the guy is Billy Idol (it seems to fit) and the author didn't want to get sued.
Anyhow, I read this in a week and loved it. Surprised to see it is on the syllabus, more books like this should be in my view. It shouldn't be all Dickens and Austen.
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Not for me
Vb ty er rt go nj kid lol
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