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The Buddha of Suburbia Paperback – May 1, 1991

4.0 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There's quite a bit of activity in Buddha of Suburbia. A bureaucrat becomes a suburban guru who marries a follower with a son who's a punk rocker named Charlie Hero. Consequently, the guru's son is propelled from his bland life into a series of erotic experiences in London. All the while, Hanif Kureishi keeps the tone lively with wry wit. On the description of suburban life: "We were proud of never learning anything except the names of footballers, the personnel of rock groups and the lyrics to 'I Am the Walrus.'" He also bends cultures, classes and genders while blasting the racism of British life in this 1990 Whitbread Prize winner.

From Publishers Weekly

Karim Amir, bored with his suburban lifestyle in England, is propelled into the fast lane and introduced to disparate cultures, classes and genders thanks to a disorienting chain of events sparked by his father, a self-proclaimed guru. PW called this "delectable. . . . Resembling a modern-day Tom Jones , this is an astonishing book, full of intelligence and elan."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014013168X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140131680
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David J. Gannon on February 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Buddha of Suburbia is set in London in the 1970's during the peak of the Punk Revolution. It is a time where the psychological impact of the reality of the loss of Empire is at it's zenith and the explosion in the "ethnic" components of London's population is underway. Society is in a cultural and social upheaval and the world of Karim Amir as presented by Hanif Kureishi serves as an eloquent microcosm of that upheaval.
Karims rather staid middle class London suburban existence is coming apart as the novel opens. His English mother and Indian father's marriage is quickly disintegrating. His father's escape from this disaster is to become the "Buddha of Suburbia", mouthing trite Indian spiritual sayings for desperate middle aged suburban housewives and so forth. When is dad and one of his "disciples" become romantically involved, Karim is introduced into the whirlwind of London punk social life and then thoroughly swept up in the tide, ultimately achieving a measure of true personal success as all around him flounder in overindulgent self-indulgence.
Kureishi does a remarkable job of painting a detailed and well textured portrait of a society in flux during times of economic, artistic and racial turmoil through a cast of characters that adroitly symbolize the various factions of the disintegrating society while maintaining their integrity as fully formed and sympathetic (for the most part anyway) individuals.
I quite liked the book but I feel one should be forewarned that this book does have some rather unsavory, hardcore elements and situations in it that will not be everyone's cup of tea. If that sort of thing doesn't bother you, dive right in and enjoy the show.
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Format: Paperback
The Buddha of Suburbia is a coming-of-age novel that takes place in the suburbs near London in the 70s. Although its `Indians in England' theme could easily have become an overly earnest exploration of ethnicity and gender and culture, Kureishi has the sense to spare us all that. Instead he's written a hilarious but often touching story in which the wit and energy of individuals are what's important.
Karim Amir, the narrator, is a 21-year-old Englishman of Indian descent who's at a crossroads in his life. He's waiting for something important to happen, but, uncertain as to what that thing is exactly, ends up just sort of hanging out, going from place to place. This gives the book a kind of wandering and aimless feel. You have several different plot lines: Karim's father leaving his mother for a London socialite and simultaneously becoming an Indian buddha adored by upper class white people; Amir's ultra-feminist friend Jamila having sex in bathrooms, studying martial arts in preparation for the Revolution, and being forced to marry a sheepish fat man from India because her father threatens to starve himself to death; Karim himself, joining an acting group to become famous but playing a ridiculous Mowgli in a production of the Jungle Book; Karim's ambitious and self-obsessed friend, Charlie, becoming a rock star and pressing the limits of sexuality by having hot candle wax dripped on his penis.
These events don't make for the most cohesive plot, but the characters themselves more than make up for it. You see Karim's parents and friends and associates as kind of sad and pathetic and funny and frustrated little people. Whereas others are intimidated or inspired or in awe of them, Karim is able to sit back and laugh at it all.
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Format: Paperback
This book is vulgar, graphic, and crude. It's also witty, interesting, and entertaining. And that combination makes it unlike anything else I've read.

"I wanted to live always this intensely: mysticism, alcohol, sexual promise, clever people, and drugs." That's what the narrator, Karim Amir, states near the beginning of the story. As the book opens he's just a kid--a seventeen year old boy living in suburban London. His father is Indian and his mother in English, and that effects everything in his life, though the author never beats you over the head with his opinions on race relations.

The novel is set in the last seventies, and you follow Karim as he leaves the suburbs and gets caught up in the punk movement and socialist politics. His father wants him to be a doctor, but he realizes it's not for him and eventually pursues acting.

The story itself is not remarkable. It's a basic coming of age tale that follows the narrator through several years as he experiences sex, love, and first jobs. What makes this book fascinating is the writer's style. He mixes philosophy with references to pop culture. He's very blunt and possibly offensive when discussing sex or politics. The book is often humorous, sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny.

The whole things is very refreshing. Rather than reading a work of fiction it almost feels like reading letters from a friend. The prose is excellent, but you never feel like the author gets too poetic, so it feels realistic and you really believe that you're getting a story told by Karim without anything being sugar -coated.

I can't think of any authors who are exactly like Kureishi, but he does remind me of Vonnegut at times because the book is humorous, but there's also a lot of depth to it. You might also enjoy it if you like pop culture authors like Nick Hornby, but you're looking for a bit more substance.
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