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The Buddha of Suburbia - Hanif Kureishi

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Author: Hanif Kureishi / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 08 January 2009 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Faber & Faber / Title: The Buddha of Suburbia / ISBN 13: 9780571245871 / ISBN 10: 0571245871 / Alternative EAN: 9780826453242

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      12.05.2006 16:01
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      A modern classic

      Introduction
      This book made ripples in the literary world when it was published in 1990; it won a Whitbread Prize for Literature and was made into a four-part mini-series on the television. Set in the 1970s, it tells the story of a half-Indian, half-English boy called Karim growing up in the suburbs – similar to a more adult version of Adrian Mole’s Diary, but addressing a lot more complicated issues and lots of sexual content.

      The author
      Hanif Kureishi was born in Bromley, Kent and as well as being the author of novels, also writes screenplays including My Beautiful Launderette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.

      The story
      Karim has a somewhat complicated family life. His father, Haroon, is in love with a woman that isn’t his wife and wants to move in with her; the rise in interest in spiritualism has led to his popularity as a teacher. His dad’s best friend, Anwar, is losing the will to live, because his daughter, Jamilla, with whom Karim has regular sex, will not marry the man that has been chosen for her. His dad’s sister is an alcoholic and Karim himself is confused about his sexuality, having strong feelings for his step-brother to be, Charlie. Karim is also struggling to find his identity in a racist environment, when trends in the pop world are having a strong influence on society.

      When his father finally leaves his mother and moves in with his mistress, Eva, Karim goes with him and under her influence, becomes involved in the acting world. He goes on tour and falls in love for the first time. But then things change, and his newly-found identity starts to fall to pieces as a huge black cloud of depression comes down on his head. Can he sort himself out or is he on a path to self-destruction?

      The characters
      Karim is a sensitive teenager when we first meet him, confused about sexuality and feeling displaced because of his father’s relationship with his mistress. He has no idea of what he wants to become; he slowly stops going to school because there just seems no point. He finds racism in every part of society, which he finds difficult to cope with, particularly being only half-Indian. But acting brings out the best in him; finally he has a reason for living….until things start to go wrong. I warmed to Karim immediately – he is all too aware of his faults, yet is basically a kind and caring person who wants to do right by all the people in his family. This is a vivid portrayal of a young man growing up in the 1970s, but Karim is also a character that most people will find something to associate with, no matter when they grew up.

      Karim’s father, Haroon, Harry for short, moved to the UK to study law as a young man, but didn’t finish his studies and ended up as a pen-pushing civil servant. He loves living in London and has no desire to go home, yet his job bores him and his wife no longer provides him with what he needs. Eva, on the other hand, his mistress, is vibrant and beautiful, believes in Buddhism and encourages Haroon to teach Buddhism. Together they make an excellent couple; Haroon provides Eva with the assurance that she needs and Eva’s caring and demonstrative nature brings Haroon and Karim out of themselves.

      Haroon’s friend Anwar, who came over to the UK with him runs a convenience store with his wife, Jeeta, and daughter, Jamilla. Despite his comfortable lifestyle, he still has strict Indian principles and expects his daughter to enter into an arranged marriage. Jamilla, on the other hand, a feisty young woman who has more English principles, refuses…until her father goes on a hunger strike. Enter Changez, fresh from the Indian provinces. He is overweight and has a withered arm, but is kind and caring and although Jamilla refuses to consummate their marriage, they do have a relationship together. Karim also becomes close to Changez. I loved Changez. He brought a humorous element to the book; yet the author manages it so that he doesn’t become the butt of all the jokes – he is just a simple soul who wants everyone to be happy.

      Conclusion
      I really enjoyed this book. It was a refreshing look at growing up, relationships and racism. The racism that the characters have to suffer is shocking, but it isn’t a case of them putting up with it – they fight back in an organised way that makes the skinheads look ridiculous. The strongest part of the book for me was the characters. They were so vividly drawn and although larger than life, still managed to come across very naturally. The author’s ability to write humour into the story was excellent – I had a smile on my face from start to finish. There is a strong sexual content, which includes bondage and homosexuality, so if you are offended by this, you should keep away from this book. Highly recommended.

      The book is available from Amazon for £3.99. Published by Faber and Faber, it has 288 pages. ISBN: 0571142745

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        24.09.2005 16:29
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        An excellent novel that everyone should read.

        The Bhudda of Suburbia was written by Hanif Kureishi in 1990, it went
        on to win that year's Whitbread Prize for best novel and was definitely a
        deserving winner. It was made into a television show in the mid nineties
        starring Naveen Andrews now better known for the show Lost currently showing
        around the world. The TV adaptation caused a huge furore in the british press at
        the time for its graphic depictions of sex. This was not so much for the nudity
        but due to a scene involving the protagonist Karim experimenting with another
        man.But back to the novel:

        The book centres around a young man named Karim Amir and spans his life between
        the years 1971 to 1979 in Thatcherite Britain. Karim is half Indian with an
        english mother and finds himself caught between cultures whilst he looks for a
        future he is unsure about. As well as this, Karim is a bisexual, a fact that
        doesn't go down too well with his father "My son a Bumbanger" etc. His father
        is the Bhudda Of Suburbia, a working man who spends his nights going around
        middle class homes teaching meditation and mysticism to new age housewives.
        Consequently, he begins having an affair with one of these women, a fact that
        should tear Karim apart. The brilliance of the novel is in Kureishi's
        charcterisation of Karim as a lazy, detatched slob who really doesn't care that
        much at all. In fact from his dad's new relationship, he gets to hang out with
        his new brother in law, a boy he is obsessed with.

        As the novel goes on, Karim ends up living in squats, hanging with an arty
        crowd and getting into punk, A movement his brother in law is a huge part of.
        Karim finds himself indulging in numerous sexual experiments with men and women.
        He becomes an actor and finds himself in a world of weird orgies and S & M.
        From
        the above description, it would seem Kureishi's novel was just about sex but
        that's really not the case. The Bhudda Of Suburbia is a beautifully drawn out
        and brilliantly witty insight into life for an Indian growing up in Britain in
        the seventies. The book handles issues of Racism and every other phobia in an
        assured and humorous manner. This book will really make you think. Highly
        recomended

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        17.11.2002 04:01
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        This summer I reread one of my all-time favourite books: The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. Published in 1990, it deservedly won the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel. The title may mean something to people who haven't read the book as it was made into a television series in the mid-1990s and sparked a huge furore in the conservative press for its depiction of one particular sex scene. This ridiculous Puritanism did plenty for the viewing figures and book sales, but sadly overshadowed and distorted what is a perceptive, funny, touching, brilliant, life-enhancing work of fiction. The story spans the years 1971 to the beginning of Thatcherism in 1979, and follows the life of Karim Amir, known as Creamy to his mates, a 17 year old Londoner and Millwall supporter with an English mother and Indian father. Karim is an extremely likeable selfish bastard who throughout the book struggles to find his identity whilst living life to the full. His own journey is mirrored by that of Britain which muddles through the chaotic Labour years of discontent and confusion. Karim's identity issues are multiple. First, he is an Englishman with English tastes, who is also half Indian in both race and culture. He is lazy and unambitious, but needs to earn a living. He is bisexual in an intolerant world (Father: ?A bumbanger! My own son ? How did it transpire??). His allegiance is torn between his slovenly, adulterous, opinionated, inconsistent father and his put-upon, timid, depressed and housewifely mother. Karim's life changes when his father's lover propels him into arty society as some sort of philosophical guru. Here Karim comes into contact with others who are free and easy about his life choices and who encourage him to experiment with life. Again he is thrown into the centre of conflict, however, as the other side of the family impress upon him their white middle-class values. Rather than being torn apart by the dichotomies tha
        t pervade his life, Karim merely notices them from a distance and carries on regardless. This is partly his laziness, partly his genuine, though unstructured, desire to progress through his own experience. Through his new arty acquaintances, Karim's life becomes a journey of discovery - political, personal and sexual. From secret torrid sex sessions with his female friend Jamila - herself dealing with the inner conflict of being a Muslim and rampant feminist - he begins to enjoy sex with his own sex too. Indeed, if there's one thing Karim loves, it is sex, and he's not averse to trying it on with anyone just for fun. He also loves to have sex with the daughters of white racists, gaining enormous satisfaction from the thought that he is retaliating in a way that would disgust them beyond measure. But Karim is not the only victim of racism in this book. Instead, we get to see it from all sides, with Karim's father and uncle frequently railing against other Indians and all Pakistanis. Politically, we find Karim living in a squat with devout socialist Terry, who he tries but fails to seduce. Socially, we see Karim climb the social ladder of the arty set as he becomes an actor with a co-operative theatre group. Sexually, he progresses to a sublime orgy scene which is so funny and excruciating that it is impossible to forget. Where traditionally the novel sees its main character go through a process of learning, TBOS merely observes Karim as he dips in and out of different sides of life. Karim does not learn any great moral lessons in the way that many main characters in books do, but instead takes us through a multitude of dimensions of 70s British life. Karim is refreshingly amoral. He intends to hurt no one, but inadvertently hurts many. His mother, for instance, often feels neglected and unloved by him. He carries on his affair with Jamila while befriending her arranged husband, Changez. He sleeps with anyo
        ne and everyone, even after he has had his heart broken by an actress and learned what it is to feel the pain of rejection. It is testament to Kureishi's great skill as a writer that Karim is at once so dislikeable and so utterly lovable. What shines through are Karim's good (or perhaps that should be his doesn't-mean-any-harm) intentions, his open heart, his lack of judgmentalism and his have-a-go attitude to everything. He is always on the lookout for a new experience, a different bandwagon to jump on, and his constant shifts make the book exciting and fun. After just a few short chapters, you are on Karim's side whatever he says or does, because you know that going with him is a hell of a lot more interesting than siding with anyone else in the book whose lives are more structured, more normal and more parched. Other characters are equally unforgettable. Karim's father, Haroon, is a talented but cynical snob. His Uncle Ted and Auntie Jean are so 70s middle class they would not be out of place in Abigail's Party. Jamila perfectly captures the feminist fervour of her age. And Changez ('The Dildo Killer' for reasons I won't divulge as I don't want to spoil a fantastic scenario) is a superbly crafted naïve hedonistic consumer. It is difficult to do justice to the inherent comedy of TBOS in a review. You have to read it to appreciate the sly social commentary, the cultural satire and sometimes even the slapstick. There have been many times I've had to put the book down and have a real good chuckle. Ultimately for me, TBOS is about identity, and it examines identity in a way that few others had at the beginning of the 90s. TBOS eschews the idea that we are one thing. Remember the 60s, 70s and 80s, when people were forever springing up in the media as the spokesperson for you and me, just because they also happened to be female, male, black, white, disabled, gay or whatever? I am a
        woman, and you reading this might be a woman, and therefore we would have something in common. But we would also have many, many things that set us apart. TBOS shows that we are each unique. As a half white, half Indian, bisexual, lazy but successful Pink Floyd loving punk, Karim speaks for no one but Karim. Yes he has much in common with the white side of his family. Yes he has much in common with the Indian side of his family. He has things in common with every set of people with whom he comes into contact. But put them all together and you have an individual. TBOS is not the story of what it is to be of mixed race in Britain, though naturally there will be parallels with the experiences of people who also share that situation. Karim, and thus Kureishi, speak on behalf of no one but themselves. For this reason, and for the fact that this is a wonderfully crafted, bitingly funny, invitingly warm novel, TBOS has a universal appeal that accounts for the book's mainstream success. If I could, I would make The Buddha of Suburbia a prescribed text for everyone who enjoys a bloody good read. Published by Faber and Faber 1990 ISBN: 0571142745 Amazon: Paperback £6.39

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          05.10.2001 01:43
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          The title of this book may ring bells with some people who haven’t read it, as it was made into a BBC drama series in 1993. More importantly it won the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel in 1990. Hanif Kureishi (HK from now on) is probably better known for his 2 excellent films, My Beautiful Launderette, and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. Well, I think so anyway, because I’ve seen them, and I didn’t see The Buddha of Suburbia. Subjective stuff, I know, but what the heck, it’s Thursday, an anniversary of sorts for me as coincidentally it’s the day I was born on. This is HKs’ debut novel, and it is sublime, well worthy of winning prizes, which is why I mustered up the energy to try and write about it. It’s the sort of book that should be thrust upon people, I’m going to buy all my relatives a copy for Christmas. Mm, maybe not, it cost £6.99. Definite school syllabus stuff though as it covers so many social issues in a humorous, sartorial and self-deprecating fashion that is rare in contemporary fiction. Only it’s not really contemporary, as the story runs from about 1971 through to the arrival of Ma Thatcher at No 10 (1979, for you young ‘uns). However, it felt contemporary to me, as HK makes you feel like you’re there. The central character of the tale is Karim Amir, Creamy to his friends, a 17 year-old Englishman (Though not proud of it), who has an Indian father, Haroon, and an English mother, Margaret. Karim, it is reasonable to assume from the story, is fairly vanilla coloured, as he goes to the Den to watch Millwall occasionally and returns alive. This is an important part of the story as Karim struggles with his origins when philosophical circumstances force him to, not often though, as he is delightfully slovenly of both thought and action, except in his thirst for useless knowledge. His father, who is from a wealthy Indian family, is also a useless article, as he always had servants
          in India, and now works as a lowly, incompetent civil servant. All this changes though, as Haroons’ bit on the side, Eva, exploits his talent for expounding Eastern Philosophy as part of her master plan to propel them from the dull suburbs - I never quite figured out which dull suburbs, but maybe you aren’t supposed to know – into arty-farty London society, which HK then proceeds to take great delight in poking fun at. This ranges from having sly and not so sly pops at the temperamental luvvies, through to ragging the politico types such as Terry, the Communist actor whom Karim repeatedly tries to seduce purely for the amusement of seeing him squirm. Karim has one asset to counter his idle nature, charm. He loves sex, with either boys or girls, ranging from Charlie, Eva’s soon-to-be pop star son, to Jamila. Haroon catches Karim with his hands on Charlie’s assets, and approves not, “A bumbanger! My own son – How did it transpire?” Karim, in his usual fashion, just blackmails his Father into leaving him alone. Casual sex partner Jamila is the daughter of Anwar, Haroons best friend, and his wife, Princess Jeeta, who run a grocery store. Being a devotee of women’s rights and the daughter of a Muslim make for one of the books major conflicts, but she has sex regularly with Karim in toilets, building sites, or wherever the opportunity rises. That’s not to say this book is all about sex though, although there’s plenty of it, right up to Karim getting roped into a foursome. Racism also rears it’s ugly head, but HK turns it upside down, at least from a white perspective, with Haroon and Anwar frequently disparaging their hated Pakistani cousins. Jamila responds to racism with violence, whilst Karim uses his more cunning skills and has sex with his tormentors’ daughters. Karim is completely self-centred and self-obsessed, and almost unashamedly, so it’s
          a wonder that he’s so damned likeable, but he is, and is the hero of the book rather than the anti-hero, which is a testament to HKs skill as a writer. Most writers just couldn’t carry off making a character so devious, deviant, horny, lazy and unrepentant without the reader feeling loathing, but with young Creamy this just doesn’t happen. Characterisation is one of the keys to both the plot, and the book itself. Creamy goes on to become a character actor, which introduces some extremely amusing situations ranging from brawls to orgies, and HK spends about 2 pages wittily describing each character, and equally important something of their background and tastes, as they are introduced, which really gives the reader a feeling that they are involved. Changez is a fantastic character and alone is worthy of reading the book, he’s probably my favourite, but to say more about him would reveal too much. Suffice to say he ends up being called “The Dildo Killer” Haroon, or Harry as he likes to known in his attempts at anglicising himself, is the Buddha of the title, and his philandering and philosophising are bad examples from which Creamy takes a lead, he also disrupts the lives of Jean and Ted, his wife’s sibling and in-law, with his strange utterances, which we don’t really hear much of, just the fallout from them. Ted and Jean are the real suburbanites here, and are lampooned by HK in a fashion that is subtle enough to ensure that if their contemporaries read the book, they would probably fail to notice the irony of it all. I’ve tried to convey the flavour of this book without giving too much of the plot away, but I guess it’s one of those novels it’s just too hard to do justice. Get it from your library, buy it, borrow it, or anything. This is a book not to be missed. As a parting comment, here’s one of the cover quotes “It is a wonderful novel. I doubt I will rea
          d a funnier one, or one with more heart, this year, possibly this decade” Angela Carter, Guardian. Maybe a bit over effusive, but she’s not far off the mark.

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            19.12.2000 05:44
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            You like your fiction the way you like your men - snazzy, sexy with a great sense of humour? Try Kureishi for size. Here's a novel for our times which charts the experience of growing up in suburban London -boredom, claustrophobia and the desperate search for an identity the vast majority of us experience in our teens. All this is hampered in Karim's case by the fact he's a bisexual 'Englishman born and bred' - with an Indian father who is masquerading as a Buddhist and having a less than secret affair. The plot is fast and furious - it is no surprise the book was adapted for the small screen as it has a real cinematic feel. Although the tone of the novel is extremely entertaining - judging by this performance, Kureishi has certainly earned his status as one of Britain's foremost contemporary writers - the humour seems to have been used to depoliticise the novel's main issue: race. Mostly racist incidents are portrayed as being farcical rather than threatening or disturbing. Kureishi seems afraid of making his novel too overtly political for fear of alienating his mostly white readership. Like Meena Syal in Anita and Me, Kureishi is using humour as a way of sweetening the bitter pill of racial conflict. I think this would be a great gift for someone you'd like to coax into reading more books as its very accessible - and saucy! Don't read it on the train though, not unless you want bewildered commuters to turn around and stare as you snort with laughter...

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          • Product Details

            Winner of the Whitbread Best First Novel, 1990.