Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA, by Hanif Kureishi

The Buddha of Suburbia, by Hanif Kureishi. Published 1991 by Penguin.

Hanif Kureishi's novel about a British-Indian teen finding his way in 1970s London has become a kind of iconic portrait of the city at that time, and a sort of counterculture classic. I picked it up for both reasons, and it was well worth my time.

Karim is one of two sons of a white British mother and her Indian husband, Haroon. As the novel opens in the London suburb of Beckenham, Haroon is making a name for himself as a guru, making the rounds of suburban houseparties as "the Buddha of Suburbia." But before long he gets involved with Eva, an arty woman with her sights on high society, and Haroon leaves his wife to start a new life- a life filled with sophisticates, better parties, and glamour, or so he hopes. Karim and his brother Allie are devastated; Karim chooses to live with his father, whom he adores, and though he is torn between the life his father represents and his mother's love, he finds himself more and more enmeshed in Eva's glitzy pretensions, as well as the drugs, sex and excitement that go with them.

The Buddha of Suburbia often struck me as a London version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with better writing and more interesting characters and situations. Please don't bother telling me I didn't like Perks because I'm O-L-D. I didn't like it because it's not a very good book. Buddha manages to communicate the pains of growing up, growing apart from your family and falling in and out of love for the first time, without the vulgarity of that other book, and with a lot more intelligence. It covers issues like economic and racial tensions in 70s London and teenage sexual ambivalence without angsting over it so. I like this about some British books; people have their issues, and their struggles, but they manage to not be so gosh-darn melodramatic about it. I don't know about you, but I have enough melodrama in my day to day life without having to live someone else's, too, so I appreciate that.

The Buddha very plot-oriented; you get to know characters through their actions and the character you will know best is Karim, who narrates in a matter-of-fact style. His adventures take him from his mother's house to his father's, to the world of the theater, to America, to and from various friends, relatives and lovers, and back again, to himself at last. His brother Allie joins cousin Jamilla, her unforgettable husband Changez and a varied mix of characters for a ride you'll enjoy. London is a character in the book, its neighborhoods and streets, its social mores and conflicts. I'd recommend The Buddha to readers of edgy, eccentric fiction who like unusual characters and a strong sense of place.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm pretty sure I would not have given this book any notice without your wonderful review here. I was one of those that loved Perks, and if this one is even better then I know I'd love it.

Mystica said...

Thank you for a very, very interesting review.

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read Perks but I loved the movie. I suspect I'd love this book.