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The Impressionist Hardcover – April 1, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052594642X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525946427
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,265,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The antihero 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 spoiled 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 in 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 Pran Nath prefers to slope off to the city's red-light district whenever he can. During a time of riot and bloodshed, the chance of re-creating himself as an English schoolboy destined for public school and Oxford presents itself, and he takes it. But this is not his final transformation.

In certain ways Kunzru is almost too ambitious. There is so much crammed onto the pages of The Impressionist that some of it, almost inevitably, doesn't work as well as it might. However, as the shapeshifting 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,

From Publishers Weekly

re-pub buzz about this impressive debut includes a record $1.8-million book deal and predictions of literary renown for its 30-year-old author. Charting the bizarre and picaresque journey of a chameleon-like figure from India to England to Africa, Kunzru keenly explores themes of racial and ethnic identity and overweening British pride. Until 1918, his 15th year, spoiled Pran Nath believes that he is the son of a wealthy Kashmiri merchant and a disturbed woman, Amrita, who died giving birth to him. When the housekeeper reveals that he is actually an Englishman's child, and thus a despised half-breed, he's thrown out on the street. After an involuntary stay in a brothel, a stint as a servant in the depraved household of the Nawab of Fatehpur, and a sojourn at a Bombay missionary's home, he moves on to England, where he pretends to be an orphaned heir, Jonathan Bridgeman. With each identity he assumes, the hero strives to become more and more like a pure Englishman and to hide his "tainted blood." As Bridgeman, Pran goes through Brideshead-era Oxford and falls in love with a seductive heartbreaker, Astarte Chapel. When she dumps him, he despairingly joins an anthropological expedition to the Fotse tribe in Africa; in the plot's most clever twist, he comes full circle with his real father's life. While the initial chapters are somewhat heavy-handed, and the plot stalls in its overfamiliar satire of the Oxford aesthetes, the African chapters exude a Paul Bowles-like power, and the seamlessly composed, vividly exotic set pieces exhibit an energy and density not usually found in debut fiction. London talents like Kunzru and Zadie Smith suggest that something like the Latin American boom of the '60s is happening in England. Author tour; rights sold in France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and U.K. (Apr.)Forecast: Kunzru's audacious version of the everyman antihero should establish his literary credentials, and his fast-moving plot should attract readers who like a good yarn. His experience as host of an English TV show should spin in the media, and Dutton's aggressive ad campaign will likely move the book toward the bestseller list.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Hari Kunzru is the author of the novels The Impressionist (2002), Transmission (2004), My Revolutions (2007) and Gods Without Men (2011), as well as a short story collection, Noise (2006). His work has been translated into twenty-one languages and won him prizes including the Somerset Maugham award, the Betty Trask prize of the Society of Authors, a Pushcart prize and a British Book Award. In 2003 Granta named him one of its twenty best young British novelists. Lire magazine named him one of its 50 "écrivains pour demain". He is Deputy President of English PEN, a patron of the Refugee Council and a member of the editorial board of Mute magazine. His short stories and journalism have appeared in diverse publications including The New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, Financial Times, Times of India, Wired and New Statesman. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Skillfully written cleverly constructed and funny.
If you get that, I think it's supposed to be mildly amusing, in a dry sort of way.
Roger Angle
This story is set in early 20th century colonial India.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Hari Kunzru's "The Impressionist" is one of the most promising debuts to have been published this last year and yes, the novel is excellent, though not nearly as assured or accomplished as the hype would have us believe. The premise of the novel is certainly interesting and an ideal vehicle for Kunzru to explore issues of race, culture and identity in an ironic tongue-in-cheek manner through the life of one half-caste, Pran Nath. From the moment he was conceived, Pran needed only nature's endowment, the instinct to survive. Born into a wealthy Indian family, our pampered hero finds himself unceremoniously dumped into the streets one day when his true paternity comes to light. Kidnapped by pimps, he is forced into prostitution, servicing a bent colonialist until his incredible escape into the shelter of a half-demented Scottish missionary and his native friendly wife. But that's only half the story. When fate presents the opportunity for a total makeover, the light skinned Pran seizes it, acquiring the false identity of a young Englishman and before we know it, he finds himself "back" in England living on trust money and the life of an Oxford undergraduate, chasing after an airhead. After many more twists and turns, our young protagonist lands up in Africa.
As we witness Pran's multiple transformation, we come face to face with the realization that perhaps, just perhaps there's no real person underneath the skin and bone. Watching this beautiful butterfly morph into a moth and back again is like watching a snake shedding its skin, an ongoing process powered by nature and instinct. While "The Impressionist" is undoubtedly an impressive and intriguing novel, Kunzru may have overreached himself and the minisaga pays the price of being overwritten.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This sprawling debut novel ambitiously attempts to combine satire and farce with questions of identity, class, race, culture and heritage in the symbol-laden Dickensian story of an Anglo-Indian boy born just after the turn of the century in British India. Pran is conceived in the midst of a Biblical flood and spends the early years of his life living the spoiled luxurious life of a wealthy child. When he is cast out as a young teenager, he is forced to adapt to circumstances in order to survive- a pattern that will define his life. Throughout the book Pran has no point of view of his own, and grows up learning how to copy the speech, mannerisms, and beliefs of others. It's an interesting idea, but ultimately one that undermines the narrative, since the result is an essentially a soulless creation who has no depth.
Through his semi-picaresque adventures, Pran does manage to occasionally engender some sympathy, especially when he is tricked and drugged into sexual slavery. However, Kunzru holds back a bit here, preferring to "draw the veil" over Pran's several rapes, rather than exposing the true horror of the experience, and so a distance is maintained. Pran then lands in the grasp of a self-loathing British Major with a prediction for young boys (a rather stereotyped character), who begins the process of Pran's transformation into a proper British schoolboy. Next he pops up in Bombay's red-light district of Falkland Road as an assistant to the preacher at the Independent Scottish Mission Among the Heathen. This is perhaps the strongest portion of the book, with evocative descriptions of street life and the unhappy Scottish missionary couple he lives with. As the anti-colonial movement grows more active, Pran is presented with a golden opportunity to escape to England.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The first thing anyone notices about Hari Kunzru's debut novel, "The Impressionist," is that it certainly is different.
To begin with, the protagonist, Pran Nath Razdan, was conceived in a cave during the first monsoon of the year 1903, the son of an indulged Indian girl, Amrita, and a silent British forestry specialist. Although Amrita died in childbirth, a maid reveals Pran Nath's true parentage when he is but 15 years old. Consequently, he is thrown out of the luxurious home of his wealthy Kashmiri "father" and grows up alone, inventing and reinventing himself and his life as he chooses.
Pran Nath had the luck, or the misfortune (it all depends on the way in which one looks at the situation), to be born with the fair skin of his English father. While this makes him an outcast in India, it does allow him to reinvent himself as a totally Caucasian man...when the occasion calls for it.
Neither brown nor white, Pran Nath really can't decide what, or even who, he really is. To say that his "sense of self" is seriously underdeveloped is a serious understatement. Pran Nath will be anything to anyone and he takes pride in his ability to do so.
Pran Nath, of course, comes off as a very superficial character. I don't see how we could perceive him in any other way. The man has no essence, no core, his personality, indeed, his very identity is as fluid as the water in a backyard birdbath. This is not to say that Pran Nath is cardboard cutout of a character. He's not. He's something beyond that. He's almost invisible or the ultimate shapeshifter, perhaps.
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