and dance at British Indian author Hari Kunzru's new book release
New Delhi, June 24, 2004:
In what was perhaps one of India's most funky book releases
ever, British Indian author Hari Kunzru's new book was released
accompanied by Bollywood tracks and clips from popular Hindi films.
Clips of the latest Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster "Main Hoon
Na" played on giant plasma display screens and loud beats
of "It's the time to disco" - another hit track from
another Khan hit "Kal Ho Na Ho" - reverberated around
New Delhi's British Council, venue for the launch late of Wednesday
"It is the new young British Council," smiled Anjoo
Mohun, of the Council's communications division, as guests munched
canapés and sipped cocktails in an environment, which,
with the dimming of a couple of lights, could have easily turned
into a dance floor.
"Also Bollywood is a predominant theme in Hari's book, so
we wanted create that feel."
Kunzru, who traces his origin to Kashmir, was one of the biggest
publishing names launched last year with his debut "The Impressionist".
author Hari Kunzru, author of the award-winning and bestselling
novel The Impressionist,
was named as one of Grantas
20 Best Fiction Writers Under 40.
The Impressionist was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist;
was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread
First Novel Award, and a British Book Award; and was one of Publishers
Weeklys Best Novels of 2002. Kunzru has written for a variety
of English and international publications, including The Guardian,
Daily Telegraph, The London Review of Books, and Wired. He lives
The Impressionist is a black comedy about race and identity. It
goes from India to England to Paris to Africa following one character,
Pran, who assumes a great deal of different identities and never
quite fits into any of them.
Idea for the book come from:
Part of the idea came from my own experience of being the child
of an Indian father and an English mother. I've grown up in England
and feel pretty English in my upbringing, but there's always been
an aspect of my experience that hasn't quite fitted. I wanted
to write something about a character like that, only I've reversed
the polarities in a way. Pran is the child of an English father
and an Indian mother and I've set the book at a time (the 1920s)
- maybe the last time - when the Empire really mattered. It's
at a crisis point in the story of the British Empire, which of
course is kind of why I m here. My father would never have come
to Britain if there wasn't the historical connection between the
A fast paced, witty novel that traverses through colonial India,
Oxford England and an imaginary African tribal land, during the
last days of the British Empire. But does it live up to the hype
and fanfare that have preceded it?
An epic and amusing Indian / British adventure that romps through
colonial India, Britain and Africa during the last days of the
British Empire. The story is of Pran Nath, a beautiful pale-skinned
Anglo-Indian boy who, chameleon - like, moves from one world to
another, taking on a completely new identity each time.
Rejected from his Brahmin family for his 'tainted blood', he
survives by becoming Rukshana, a cross-dressing slave in the harem
of the promiscuous and dissolute Raj of Fatehpur. He then escapes
to the dirty streets of Bombay where he becomes 'Pretty Bobby',
conveniently adopted by an eccentric English missionary couple.
Here he learns the skills for his supreme reinvention into an
English gentleman, Jonathan Bridgeman, who travels to England
and the stiff upper lip world of the British boarding school and
His final journey is ironically back to the 'savage' world from
which he has escaped, as a reluctant assistant on an anthropological
safari to Fotseland, a fictional African tribal land.
Huge expectations and hype have accompanied the launch of this
novel, due to the reported £1.25 million advance Kunzru
received for the publishing rights for this, his debut novel.
Kunzru is being lauded as the trendy new face of British publishing
and compared to Zadie Smith (White Teeth). It is the nature of
such extreme hype, to make it difficult for any book to live up
to the expectations. Unfortunate really, for without the hype,
this is an impressive book - fast paced, clever and very witty.
Not so much an Indian novel, as British. It looks with amusing
satire at the decline of The Empire, the rigid social rules and
absurdly arrogant beliefs that created barriers between class
and race. Kunzru has created, in the character Pran, the classic
product of two cultures. Rejected and uncomfortable in both, Pran
develops his gift for imitation and successfully copies all the
rules, conventions and costumes that make up the appearance of
culture and becomes something that he is not.
In imitating the 'white superior' culture, Pran begins to believe
the racist dogma, and tries to become the white person by 'expelling'
the black. But the final irony is that in becoming the ultimate
Englishman, the English girl he loves finds him too boring- 'the
most English person she knows'. He realizes that he has become
completely hollow and empty -"nothing of his own is visible."
Because of Pran's constant reinvention, I found that he never
became a fully rounded character for whom you could feel warmth
and sympathy. This ultimately effected my enjoyment of the novel.
He was always kept at a distance, an ever changing caricature.
Characterization aside, I enjoyed the vivid, farcical descriptions
of the absurd extravagance of the decaying Indian Raj, the extreme
Britishness of the colonials in India, and the grey and drizzly
England - "the mystic Occident: land of wool and cabbages,
and lecherous round-eyed girls"
Ultimately The Impressionist is an entertaining and clever read.
An energetic plot, a colourful array of over the top characters
and cultures combined with Kunzru's mocking wit, lift this novel
out of the ordinary. You'll have to decide for yourself whether
it lives up to the hype.
Transmission is Hari
Kunzru's second novel and, in a similar vein to Jonathan Franzen's
The Corrections, the title is instructive; it's figuratively and
literally, the book's pulsing leitmotif. To transmit is, by definition,
to "send across", and the migration of information and
people, the destruction
and the erection of borders in our hi-tech, supposedly global
village, (a world where Indian graduates gain Australian accents
working in local call centres) is what this novel is all about.
Although to be clear, that's an "all about" in much
the way that Jonathan Coe's What A Carve Up! was "all about"
the Thatcherite 1980s; narrative invention, humour and satire
form essential components of Kunzru's prodigious literary arsenal.
(No prizes for guessing who Gavin Burger, an incomprehensively
verbose US presidential spokesman who puts in a fleeting comic
turn, could be modelled on.)
Leaving aside the broader forces of globalisation, Kunzru's chief
dramatic agent is a computer virus that meshes together the lives
of his main characters: Arjun Mehta, a sexually-naïve Indian
programmer working in America who unleashes the contagion; Leela
Zahir, a Bollywood actress whose image the bug zooms across the
globe and Guy Swift, head of Tomorrow, a Shoreditch-based consultancy
whose ongoing quest to harness the "emotional magma that
wells from the core of planet brand", becomes somewhat nobbled
in the immediate technological fallout. Of his cast, not unsurprisingly
Guy comes closest to caricature (though his scheme to rebrand
European border police as Ministry of Sound-style nightclub bouncers--"Europe:
No Jeans, No Trainers"--sounds alarming believable). But
then Guy's is the incarnate of the worst, Panglossian traits of
the West in this callow information age. His certainty and self-absorbed
fecklessness (which thankfully he does eventually suffer, horribly
for) contrasts jarringly with poor, Mehta, whose American dreams
tip, all too swiftly into nightmare. --Travis Elborough