The Buddha of Suburbia

You should read it). I think Zadie Smith captures my feelings about the book, which was a damn sight better than White Teeth in my view, very well.

KUREISHI HAS HAD A PROFOUND EFFECT on younger South Asian and black writers. Zadie Smith, at 32 one of the brightest lights in the next generation of British novelists, fondly recalls reading “The Buddha of Suburbia” at age 15. “There was one copy going round our school like contraband — when it was my turn I read it in one sitting in the playground and missed all my classes,” Smith wrote to me recently in an e-mail exchange. “It’s a very simple pleasure that white readers take absolutely for granted: I’d never read a book about anyone remotely like me before.”

Actually, that’s not quite right. I did strongly identify with various superheroes. But I do agree that it was dazzlingly entertaining, though it’s been many years. I remember giving my copy of Intimacy away during college — I was kind of appalled by it, though taken in by its arresting honesty and extreme narcissism. The narrator struck me as a very recognizable, and I guess I’ve had mixed feelings about Kureishi since then. A friend of mine observed about Toby Young (I’m paraphrasing), “You can make lots of wry self-deprecating remarks about being a social-climbing boor — but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re a social-climbing boor.” Now, that doesn’t fit Kureishi as far as I know. But I do think there’s something to the casual misogyny charge, though I was also struck by what seems to be Kureishi’s self-interrogating turn. Referring to his new novel, Kureishi has this to say:

In our conversation, Kureishi described the novel as “a critique of the notion of limitless pleasure,” a re-examination of the sexual revolution. “Is this what we thought we would be in the ’60s when were dancing around with flowers in our hair wanting a more erotic and a more sexual life?” he said as he drank his peppermint tea. “If the society doesn’t install the values anymore,” he went on to say, “your happiness and your pleasure is entirely up to you; you have to work and earn it and install your own moral values.” This, he pointed out, accounts for a common “complaint of the West against radical Islam: ‘Why do they have to keep asking God? Why can’t they, as it were, make up their own minds?’ Well, it’s much harder to install your own moral values than to have them imposed by other people or by the system.” Things were “miserable” when he was growing up in the ’60s before the sexual revolution, Kureishi said, but now, he added, “we’ve moved from repression to unrepression” — which comes with its own strictures.

So is Kureishi a Blitcon? He’s not a lacerating nihilist like Houellebecq, clearly. I guess we’ll find out. Rachel Donadio did a really splendid job with this piece, and it’s well worth your time.

I’ll also add that My Son the Fanatic is an amazing film — I saw it when it was released, and I was almost alone in the theater. At the time, it was “pegged” to the race riots in the Midlands but I think it’s better understood as a Biswasian portrait of an appealingly tragic father. Speaking of which, check this out from Matt Bai’s essay:

Afterward, Cummings asked his dad if he had been crying tears of joy. “Oh, you know, I’m happy,” his father replied. “But now I realize, had I been given the opportunity, what I could have been. And I’m about to die.” In any community shadowed by oppression, pride and bitterness can be hard to untangle.

This is something to think about — the pride and bitterness that are the product of material and moral progress. If it really is true that the pace of social change is accelerating, as we grow more densely interconnected and innovation by analogy happens faster, one wonders if generational divides will grow sharper, and more antagonistic. Given that a shrinking slice of the older generation is actually doing the reproducing, you have to assume the answer is yes. I guess this is obvious.