The Buddha of Suburbia tells the story of Karim, who lives with his Indian father and English mother in the suburbs of 1970’s London. As a teenager, Karim struggles to find something that interests him, and it is only after his father leaves his mother for the beautiful and daring Eva, that his life begins to change, for the better, and for the worst. Hanif Kureishi brings us into Karim’s world, where the betrayal of his father leads to changes he has no control over, but must accept.
Although Kureishi seeks to portray the British and their attitudes towards foreigners as well as social, sexual and political conflicts, The Buddha of Suburbia seems to raise much bigger and more significant questions. The novel is neutral in that it takes no position for or against the events that occur and the things each character does, it simply just shows us different sides of one thing. Haroon, Karim’s father, leaves his wife, abandons his family, and he makes this decision because he cannot bear living a life without desire, he has to follow his heart. However, Kureishi doesn’t just leave it at that, his interest lies in showing how other people’s actions affect the ones closest to them. For Karim, nothing will ever be the same again. His perspective on family, loyalty, education and much more is now corrupt and pessimistic due to the things he endured earlier in his teenage years.
I think The Buddha of Suburbia is constantly dealing with characters who endure a tragic change, which they must accept and move forward from, regardless of their skin color. And although Kureishi does represent racial issues of the time and how it felt to cope in such societies, I think he is speaking to a broader audience than just ones who have been marginalized.
So what is The Buddha of Suburbia really about then? I’d like to think that it is about making it in a world where you have no one but yourself. It is about the search for a home, for an identity, for a future. Most importantly, it is about coping; making the best out of what comes your way, to accept things, to hope, to strive and to want, because you simply have no other choice.
Kureishi’s story is realism at its finest. To Karim, the worst thing that could have happened did. His father failed him. He is on his own, to wander the world, trying to make sense of it, to search for a sense of belonging and security. Kureishi shows that regardless of what happens, good or bad, life goes on, time will pass and it is up to us to control how it passes. People will always fail one another, people will always hurt the ones they love, and they might come to regret it and want to make amends, but Kureishi reminds us of what’s truly important. The future.
**Note: This book review was written as part of my BA in English Literature.