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Bollywood song and dance at British Indian author Hari Kunzru's new book release

New Delhi, June 24, 2004:

In what was perhaps one of India's most funky book releases ever, British Indian author Hari Kunzru's new book was released accompanied by Bollywood tracks and clips from popular Hindi films.

Clips of the latest Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster "Main Hoon Na" played on giant plasma display screens and loud beats of "It's the time to disco" - another hit track from another Khan hit "Kal Ho Na Ho" - reverberated around New Delhi's British Council, venue for the launch late of Wednesday night.

"It is the new young British Council," smiled Anjoo Mohun, of the Council's communications division, as guests munched canapés and sipped cocktails in an environment, which, with the dimming of a couple of lights, could have easily turned into a dance floor.

"Also Bollywood is a predominant theme in Hari's book, so we wanted create that feel."

Kunzru, who traces his origin to Kashmir, was one of the biggest publishing names launched last year with his debut "The Impressionist".

British Indian author Hari Kunzru, author of the award-winning and bestselling novel The Impressionist,
was named as one of Granta’s “20 Best Fiction Writers Under 40.

The Impressionist was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist; was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and a British Book Award; and was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Novels of 2002. Kunzru has written for a variety of English and international publications, including The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, The London Review of Books, and Wired. He lives in London.


The Impressionist
The Impressionist is a black comedy about race and identity. It goes from India to England to Paris to Africa following one character, Pran, who assumes a great deal of different identities and never quite fits into any of them.

Idea for the book come from:
Part of the idea came from my own experience of being the child of an Indian father and an English mother. I've grown up in England and feel pretty English in my upbringing, but there's always been an aspect of my experience that hasn't quite fitted. I wanted to write something about a character like that, only I've reversed the polarities in a way. Pran is the child of an English father and an Indian mother and I've set the book at a time (the 1920s) - maybe the last time - when the Empire really mattered. It's at a crisis point in the story of the British Empire, which of course is kind of why I m here. My father would never have come to Britain if there wasn't the historical connection between the two countries.

A fast paced, witty novel that traverses through colonial India, Oxford England and an imaginary African tribal land, during the last days of the British Empire. But does it live up to the hype and fanfare that have preceded it?

An epic and amusing Indian / British adventure that romps through colonial India, Britain and Africa during the last days of the British Empire. The story is of Pran Nath, a beautiful pale-skinned Anglo-Indian boy who, chameleon - like, moves from one world to another, taking on a completely new identity each time.

Rejected from his Brahmin family for his 'tainted blood', he survives by becoming Rukshana, a cross-dressing slave in the harem of the promiscuous and dissolute Raj of Fatehpur. He then escapes to the dirty streets of Bombay where he becomes 'Pretty Bobby', conveniently adopted by an eccentric English missionary couple.

Here he learns the skills for his supreme reinvention into an English gentleman, Jonathan Bridgeman, who travels to England and the stiff upper lip world of the British boarding school and Oxford University.

His final journey is ironically back to the 'savage' world from which he has escaped, as a reluctant assistant on an anthropological safari to Fotseland, a fictional African tribal land.

Huge expectations and hype have accompanied the launch of this novel, due to the reported £1.25 million advance Kunzru received for the publishing rights for this, his debut novel. Kunzru is being lauded as the trendy new face of British publishing and compared to Zadie Smith (White Teeth). It is the nature of such extreme hype, to make it difficult for any book to live up to the expectations. Unfortunate really, for without the hype, this is an impressive book - fast paced, clever and very witty.

Not so much an Indian novel, as British. It looks with amusing satire at the decline of The Empire, the rigid social rules and absurdly arrogant beliefs that created barriers between class and race. Kunzru has created, in the character Pran, the classic product of two cultures. Rejected and uncomfortable in both, Pran develops his gift for imitation and successfully copies all the rules, conventions and costumes that make up the appearance of culture and becomes something that he is not.

In imitating the 'white superior' culture, Pran begins to believe the racist dogma, and tries to become the white person by 'expelling' the black. But the final irony is that in becoming the ultimate Englishman, the English girl he loves finds him too boring- 'the most English person she knows'. He realizes that he has become completely hollow and empty -"nothing of his own is visible."

Because of Pran's constant reinvention, I found that he never became a fully rounded character for whom you could feel warmth and sympathy. This ultimately effected my enjoyment of the novel. He was always kept at a distance, an ever changing caricature.

Characterization aside, I enjoyed the vivid, farcical descriptions of the absurd extravagance of the decaying Indian Raj, the extreme Britishness of the colonials in India, and the grey and drizzly England - "the mystic Occident: land of wool and cabbages, and lecherous round-eyed girls"

Ultimately The Impressionist is an entertaining and clever read. An energetic plot, a colourful array of over the top characters and cultures combined with Kunzru's mocking wit, lift this novel out of the ordinary. You'll have to decide for yourself whether it lives up to the hype.

Transmission is Hari Kunzru's second novel and, in a similar vein to Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, the title is instructive; it's figuratively and literally, the book's pulsing leitmotif. To transmit is, by definition, to "send across", and the migration of information and people, the destruction

and the erection of borders in our hi-tech, supposedly global village, (a world where Indian graduates gain Australian accents working in local call centres) is what this novel is all about. Although to be clear, that's an "all about" in much the way that Jonathan Coe's What A Carve Up! was "all about" the Thatcherite 1980s; narrative invention, humour and satire form essential components of Kunzru's prodigious literary arsenal. (No prizes for guessing who Gavin Burger, an incomprehensively verbose US presidential spokesman who puts in a fleeting comic turn, could be modelled on.)
Leaving aside the broader forces of globalisation, Kunzru's chief dramatic agent is a computer virus that meshes together the lives of his main characters: Arjun Mehta, a sexually-naïve Indian programmer working in America who unleashes the contagion; Leela Zahir, a Bollywood actress whose image the bug zooms across the globe and Guy Swift, head of Tomorrow, a Shoreditch-based consultancy whose ongoing quest to harness the "emotional magma that wells from the core of planet brand", becomes somewhat nobbled in the immediate technological fallout. Of his cast, not unsurprisingly Guy comes closest to caricature (though his scheme to rebrand European border police as Ministry of Sound-style nightclub bouncers--"Europe: No Jeans, No Trainers"--sounds alarming believable). But then Guy's is the incarnate of the worst, Panglossian traits of the West in this callow information age. His certainty and self-absorbed fecklessness (which thankfully he does eventually suffer, horribly for) contrasts jarringly with poor, Mehta, whose American dreams tip, all too swiftly into nightmare. --Travis Elborough



















 Author Hari Kunzru