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Hanif Kureishi Biography

london buddha novel faber

Nationality: British. Born: Bromley, England, 1954. Education: King's College, London, B.A. Career: Film director, playwright, screenwriter, novelist; writer-in-residence, 1981 and 1985-86, Royal Court Theatre, London. Awards: Themes Television Playwright award, 1980, for The Mother Country; George Devine award, 1981; Evening Standard award, 1985, for screenplay; Rotterdam Festival's Most Popular Film award, New York Film Critics' Circle Best Screenplay award, and National Society of Film Critics' Best Screenplay award, all 1986, all for My Beautiful Launderette; Whitbread book of the Year award, and Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland first novel category, both 1990, both for The Buddha of Suburbia. Agent: Sheila Lemon, Lemon and Durbridge Ltd., 24 Pottery Lane, London W11 4 LZ, England.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Buddha of Suburbia. London, Faber, and New York, Viking, 1990.

The Black Album. London, Faber, 1995.

Love in a Blue Time. New York, Scribner, 1997.

Intimacy. New York, Scribner, 1999.

Short Stories

Midnight All Day. London, Faber, 1999.

Plays

Soaking Up the Heat (produced London, 1976).

The Mother Country (produced London, 1980).

The King and Me (produced London, 1980).

Borderline (produced London, 1981). London, Metheun, 1981.

Cinders, adaptation of a play by Janusz Glowacki (produced London, 1981).

Tomorrow—Today! (produced London, 1981).

Birds of Passage (produced London, 1983). London, Amber Lane, 1983.

Outskirts, The King and Me, Tomorrow—Today! London, River Run Press, 1983.

Mother Courage, adaptation of a play by Bertold Brecht (produced London, 1984).

Sleep with Me. London and New York, Faber, 1999.

Screenplays:

My Beautiful Launderette, 1985; published with other works as My Beautiful Laundrette and Other Writings, London, Faber and Faber, 1996; Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, 1987.

Radio Plays:

You Can't Go Home, 1980; The Trial, adaptation the novel by Franz Kafka, 1982.

Other

Editor, with Jon Savage, The Faber Book of Pop. London and Boston, Faber and Faber, 1995.

*

Critical Studies:

Hanif Kureishi: Postcolonial Storyteller by Kenneth C. Kaleta. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1998.

* * *

Hanif Kureishi's fiction is a conglomeration of influences; youth culture, the British Asian experience, sexuality and experimentation, politics and resistance. The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album, in including these influences, make a political aesthetic of their interaction. The ironies of adolescence explored in The Buddha of Suburbia depend on the ability of the reader to see wry and sly humour in the meeting of unstable cultural entities; but more significantly Kureishi's version of British Asian identity insists on critiquing the reification of that identity, and implies a necessary and layered complexity in the politics of identity in general. For this reason, Kureishi's novels make him an extraordinarily perceptive commentator on the complexities of post-coloniality and immigrant experiences, a perception that he has applied to the status of Asian identity in the widest contexts of post-1960s Britain.

The Buddha of Suburbia, Kureishi's first novel, opens with an uncovering of the "Indianness" and Englishness of the adolescent Karim. Karim asserts his right to describe himself as an "Englishman," but this soon becomes qualified ("a funny sort of Englishman") and then shifts to a discussion of "the odd mixture of continents and blood, of here and there, of belonging and not belonging, that makes me so restless and easily bored." Already established then is the assumption that the novel will examine this movement from cultural fixity to flux and that the ability to recognize the constituent parts of the result of these changes is a vital outcome in itself. The Buddha of Suburbia begins from a similar position to that described autobiographically by Kureishi in "The Rainbow Sign" (published with the script of My Beautiful Laundrette in 1986): "From the start I tried to deny my Pakistani self. I was ashamed. It was a curse and I wanted to be rid of it. I wanted to be like everyone else." The Buddha has a narrative starting point in which Karim and his father Haroon are archetypally "like everyone else"—Haroon is the perfect civil servant, Karim behaves like the typical adolescent. Yet the novel is spurred by the events that begin to transform both characters, as Haroon adopts a comically (but never entirely ridiculed) Buddhist personality while Karim develops along the unpredictable cultural and sexual trajectories of teenage life.

The Buddha of Suburbia opens up these moments of stasis. Its narrative progresses almost without the participation of its main characters; their lives are affected by perceptions of their identity constructed by those around them, and Kureishi continually emphasizes the importance of particular versions of being Indian/Muslim that resurface. The Buddha, for example, is scathing in its satire of the apparently well-intentioned liberal/left in Britain and its over-indulgence in the "East" as a site of mysticism and spirituality. Indeed most of the humor associated with Haroon in the novel depends on the discrepancy between his Islamic roots and his newfound Buddhism. Edward Said's notion that the West constructs a monolithic East for its own purposes is neatly played out through Haroon, yet with an irony at the expense of the "West" that is in some ways lacking in Said. Thus a fixed "Indian" cultural identity, desired and projected by those liberal spiritualists who come to Haroon's meditations, is never allowed to settle; it is undermined by their own inability to see Haroon's "inauthenticity" because of their preconceptions.

While liberal Western mysticism is under scrutiny in The Buddha of Suburbia, Kureishi uses his second novel to examine a more serious "usage" of marginalized racial groups in the metropolis. The Black Album is set during the Rushdie affair (when a fatwa was imposed by Iran's spiritual leader upon Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses) and takes the brave step (considering Kureishi's credentials during the Rushdie affair as someone outspoken in his defense of Rushdie) of attempting to enter the thought processes involved in the anger caused by The Satanic Verses. Shahid, the novel's central character, is placed between the familiar poles of an essentialist Asian identity (in this case anti-Rushdie fundamentalism) and Western liberalism. But The Black Album (and this is part of its comparative seriousness) produces other options within these polarities. The apparently insupportable monolithic ideology of cultural essentialism represented by Chad and Riaz is given an attraction through its ability to produce a sense of cultural cohesion, community, and comfort. From the liberal Western pole splinters Brownlow, who is used as an example of the Western leftist tendency to over-prioritize the marginality of marginal groups—this becomes a drama playing out a guilt that is apparently purged if reversed. The Black Album is then more complex than The Buddha of Suburbia in the delineation of race in British society; it is also a more serious and intense piece of writing, dealing with the same issues in a more threatening, highly charged context. Kureishi's fiction has thus moved along the trajectories of the experience of post-colonial immigration in Britain with an intelligence and irony, while developing a more complex attitude to political issues and continually using narrative and writing stylistics to place that experience in its political and (popular) cultural context.

Intimacy, Kureishi's 1999 novel (at a time when his short story and screenplay writing continue to be prolific), moves away from cultural-identity politics and brings out a strand that has always been part of his writing—the loneliness, cruelty and disconnectedness of human relations. The narrator, Jay, is on the point of leaving his partner and their two children and, at times viciously and egotistically, he assesses his soon-to-be past relationship. Jay's self-justification hovers always between alienating and challenging the reader, as Kureishi dares to deploy a central character whose apparently objectionable sense of himself and disregard for others seems to be posited as necessary and universal. Intimacy 's title is its key; deeply ironic at the expense of the text, the novel takes the reader to the boundaries of his own moral judgement and then asks if he can be sure of the ground he stands on. In this it shares with Kureishi's earlier two novels a belief that writing and reading should not be processes of comfort.

—Colin Graham

Lawrence Kushner (1943–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Sidelights [next] [back] Jawanza Kunjufu Biography - Selected writings

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