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The Impressionist by [Kunzru, Hari]
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The Impressionist Kindle Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Length: 491 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Amazon Review

The anti-hero of The Impressionist, Hari Kunzru's daringly ambitious first novel, is half-English and half-Indian. In the Raj of the 1920s the racial and social divides are enormous but Pran Nath is able to bridge them, crossing from one side to another in a series of reinventions of his own personality. He begins as the spoilt child of an Indian lawyer but circumstances thrust him out of his pampered adolescence into the teeming and dangerous life of the streets. After a bewildering period as one of the pawns in Machiavellian political and sexual scheming at the decadent court of a minor Maharajah, he escapes to Bombay. There he is taken up by a half-demented Scottish missionary and his wife but prefers to slope off to the city's red light district whenever he can. During a time of riot and bloodshed the chance of recreating himself as an English schoolboy, destined for public school and Oxford, presents itself and he takes it. Even this is not to be his final transformation, however.

In some ways Kunzru is almost too ambitious. There is so much crammed into the pages of The Impressionist that some of it, almost inevitably, doesn't work as well as it might. However, as the shape-shifting Pran Nath moves from one identity to another, knockabout farce mixes with satire, social comedy with parody. And, beneath the comic exuberance and linguistic invention, there is an intelligent and occasionally moving examination of notions of self, identity and what it means to belong to a class or society. --Nick Rennison

Review

" A stunning literary debut for the Observer Young Travel Writer of 1999 in this sweeping colonial history..." -- The Bookseller, November 30, 2001

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1068 KB
  • Print Length: 491 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (6 Sept. 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9HKM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #149,263 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Impressionist is Hari Kunzru's debut novel and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. It tells the remarkable story of a young boy, Pran Nath, born in India at the beginning of the twentieth century and destined by way of mixed parentage to a long and complex journey in search of his true self. Thus, Kunzru's meditations on identity, race, the British Empire, and anthropology are woven into a plot which sees Pran pushed and pulled by a mixture of fate and chance through Bombay, Oxford and Africa.
This plot, loose though it is, moves along at an astonishing pace and is aided both by Kunzru's marvellous rendering of myriad characters and by his tragi-comic wit tinged with elements of farce. Read it twice - once for the humour, pathos and sheer exuberance, and again for the intellectual vigour which may well be lost in the sheer excitement of the first reading.
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By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 6 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
The most wonderful aspect of this book is the reader's slowly growing awareness that this is not "just" another plot-driven novel with exotic locations and an unusual protagonist facing life-changing decisions, however fascinating they may be. It is also a deeply engrossing and carefully constructed tour de force which uses an exciting plot and a good deal of humor to make statements about the essence of selfhood, the importance of national and cultural identity, and, ultimately, our definitions of civilization and civilized behavior.
In a daring move, Kunzru throws the conventions of characterization to the winds. Instead of bringing his main character alive by showcasing his uniqueness and highlighting his different personal perspective on the world and its history, Kunzru does the opposite. In Pran/Rukhsana/Chandra/Pretty Bobby/Jonathan Bridgeman, he gives us a character who becomes, during the novel, less unique, more stereotypical--a man who sees life "in general" and from the perspective of whatever society he inhabits, a man who accepts the judgments and morality imposed upon him, acting, ultimately, "For God and England and the Empire and Civilization and Progress and Uplift and Morality and Honor."
Set primarily in the latter years of World War I and in the turbulent 1920's of the British Raj in India, the novel introduces Pran Nath Razdan, the beautiful, spoiled, and arrogant son of a wealthy court pleader in Agra. Banished from his home when his true status as a half Anglo is discovered, he must adapt to changed circumstances to stay alive. As the chief hijra of Fatehpur tells him when he assumes the role of Rukhsana and enters the harem of the Sultan, "We are all as mutable as the air! Just release...your body and you can be a myriad!
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Format: Paperback
I loved The Impressionist. It's set in the first quarter of the twentieth century and tells the story of the first twenty-odd years of the life of Pran Nath Razdan. The book opens (though we don't know it yet) with his conception, and then takes us to the Indian city of Agra, where Pran Nath is the coddled and spoiled child of a high-profile lawyer. Pran Nath is an uncommonly beautiful child, with fairer skin than anyone else in his family - which it turns out is because his father is not his father at all. This is discovered just as Razdan pere dies, and Pran Nath is thrown out of the household and left to make his way in the world.
And make his way he does, by adopting different guises and roles, ultimately masquerading as an orphan Jonathan Bridgeman, where he studies at Oxford and goes off on an anthropological expedition with his sweetheart's father to Africa. The sections of the book cover one "identity" each, and it's notable from the first change that Pran Nath never really makes the decision to change his role himself: his impressions are thrust on him by fate. This is an early indicator of what becomes glaringly apparent as the novel progresses - that Pran Nath, Pretty Bobby, Jonathan Bridgeman or whoever, has no character of his own. He is a void at the centre of the novel. Clearly this is deliberate, or at least understood by Kunzru, as we learn from this passage, where our hero watches a real impressionist on stage:
"The man becomes these other people so completely that nothing of his own is visible. A coldness starts to rise in Jonathan's gut, cutting through the vodka. He watches intently, praying that he is wrong, that he has missed something. There is no escaping it.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book thoroughly enjoyable for its humorous (yet not flippant) look at the experience of Empire, from the point of view of a poor Indian boy trying to make his way in the world against the odds. As well as providing a study of how a person can forge an identity for himself, despite failing to fit any of the categories set out by those around him, Kunzru also manages to prick the pompous bubble of British Imperial hypocrisy with an excellent cast of distinct characters.
The work feels authentic, and is scathing yet unsentimental - no attempt is made to portray the Indian characters as perfect - and works all the better for it.
This was an excellent debut. I look forward to Kunzru's next work.
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