I loved drinking tea and I loved reading books. I was supposed to be studying for my A-levels. But I knew I’d fail them anyway. So I usually sipped tea and read books all night. One night I read Hanif Kureishi’s 1990 coming-of-age tale The Buddha of Suburbia, a story about a teenager, Karim, growing up in the suburbs of London. As Karim himself changes, his friends and family also mature, get married, and move on. It’s an extremely funny and warm book, but it’s also poignant, because for all its hilarity the humour never seems cheap or farcical. The plot adequately drives the novel along, but the real joy lies in sharing the ups and downs of the various characters, most of whom draw the reader’s sympathy. There is even something sweet in the lazy, good-for-nothing Changez’s bumbling acceptance of his wife’s refusal to sleep with him. The protagonist, Karim, is a sensitive, commonsensical young man who is intensely likeable, despite the moments of self-centeredness that many of the characters seem to be guilty of.
Karim seems to feel, for most of the book, an outsider; a fact perhaps amplified by his bisexuality and his half-Indian heritage. Kureishi doesn’t shy away from challenging topics such as sexuality, race, and gender, but at the same time he never lets these topics dominate the text. It’s thought-provoking but enjoyable throughout. Kureishi’s description of the Britain of the eighties is evocative and it feels like a very ‘British’ novel – whatever that means. Perhaps that’s why the start and middle of the book, set entirely in Britain, are more compelling than the end of the book, part of which relocates to a different city.
As the dawn came up I threw open the bedroom window and looked out across the lawns and greenhouses. I wanted to shout out, now, to tell the world about this brilliant book I had read, The Buddha of Suburbia.