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4. Kureishi and his Novels
As Paul Gilroy implies, the term ‘identity’ “has recently acquired great resonance, both inside and outside the academic world” (2000, 97-98) and “has become a significant element in contemporary conflicts over cultural, ethnic, religious, ‘racial’, and national differences” (106). The basic distinction I have made earlier in this paper in connection to the concept of identity is that between the essentialist and the relational models of cultural identities. I have offered a definition of these concepts in the previous chapter in connection to Stuart Hall who argues for the relational model of identity. In the case of the essentialist model of identity, cultural or national identity is seen as an essential quality. In the case of the relational model of identity, identity of an individual or a community is perceived in relation to and through interaction with other individuals or communities. In the contemporary theoretical thinking this model has been for example employed by Edouard Glissant in his Poetics of Relation (1990). Here, Glissant approaches the concept of identity which he sees as a system of relation. Relational identity, in his view, “exults the thought of errantry and of totality” (Glissant 144). Glissant claims: “Identity is no longer just permanence; it is a capacity for variation […] The old idea of identity as a root […] leads inexorably to the refuges of generalization provided by the universal as value” (Glissant 141-142). The relational model of identity has been, as mentioned earlier in the paper, theorized by Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Homi K. Bhabha, and others. As an interactive type of identity, relational model of identity is, in Ilona’s view, seen as “useful to times of increasing proximity between peoples from different regions and cultures” (Ilona 88). Cultural identities in this sense are liable to transformation and change. This mutable concept of identity and nationalism is a consistent feature of Hanif Kureishi’s novels The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) and The Black Album (1995) whose representations of cultural and national identities are in direct contrast to essentialist notions of identity (Ilona 89). Kureishi’s writing, to use the words of Williams, does not attempt to essentialize the Black British experience, “but rather to unpack how both ‘Black-ness’ and ‘British-ness’ are culturally constructed for themselves and for the dominant culture” (Williams). Here, Williams uses the work of Bhabha to show that this sort of writing does more than simply restaging “the narratives of English culture that the British state has used to define itself” (Williams). As Bhabha implies, this kind of writing is a project that does not intend to “invert the axis of political discrimination by installing the excluded term at the centre”, but instead, as he argues, “the analytic of cultural difference intervenes to transform the scenario of articulation – not simply to disturb the rationale of discrimination” (qtd. in Williams). Williams points out that it is not the intention of writers such as Kureishi to form a narrative that would run alongside the narrative of the dominant culture. But it is neither an attempt to “assimilate the story of the Other into the dominant narrative” (Williams). Rather, as Williams suggests,

it is an attempt to disrupt the narratives forged to define the dominant culture, to hybridize the discourse, to reconfigure the concept of all cultural identities as fluid and heterogeneous. Instead of seeking recognition from the dominant culture or overcoming specific instances of political injustice, the work of these writers endeavors to reconfigure these relations of dominance and resistance, to reposition both the dominant and the marginalized on the stage of cultural discourse, and to challenge the static borders of national and cultural identity. (Williams)


Kureishi’s novels depict the multicultural reality of contemporary Britain and predominantly London. They picture the diaspora communities in contemporary London and provide references to the British imperial past. British colonial past and the immigration of the postcolonial subjects into Britain form a visible element of Kureishi’s fiction. The idea of immigration, as Williams asserts, “violates Britain’s sense of its secure national borders” (Williams). The presence of the postcolonial subjects in Britain challenges the perception of the White Englishman’s cultural identity as “being homogeneous and unitary” (Williams). In his essay “The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity” Stuart Hall states that the dominant culture’s reaction to the immigration of postcolonial subjects into Britain is an example of a “defensive exclusivism […] an embattled defensiveness of a narrow, national definition of Englishness, of cultural identity” (Hall 1997, 177). The novels of writers such as Kureishi violate the idea of a homogeneous national narrative of the dominant culture and try to open up new spaces where new perceptions of cultural identities are possible. Williams uses the term ‘Black British’ to talk about the generation of writers such as Kureishi. In his view, the idea of Black British “not only helps elude the dominant culture’s traditional tactic among marginalized ethnicities of divide and conquer, it also demands a recognition of and constant renegotiation with heterogeneity” (Williams). Kureishi places his characters predominantly in the metropolis of London which, as I alluded to in the introduction of the thesis, can be seen as a transnational and heterogeneous ‘contact zone’ which stimulates the creation of new possibilities and the perception of cultural identities as hybrid, multiple and relational concepts that are liable to transformation and change. Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (BS) and The Black Album (BA) address the realities of contemporary diasporic communities in London which, as a transnational space, helps to construct unstable, fluid and incomplete cultural identities. These novels deal with what Steven Connor calls “the conditions of divided or ambivalent ethnic belonging in Britain” (94).

Hanif Kureishi (1954) is a British writer who comes from a mixed cultural background and is, therefore, often considered a postcolonial writer. He began his career as a playwright, has written essays, radio plays, collections of short stories and novels, and is also a screenwriter. Kureishi was born in a South London suburb to an English mother and an Indian father, who came to Britain from Bombay at the time of India’s partition in 1947 while most of his family went to Karachi (Childs 141). In his young years Kureishi attended Bromley Tech, the same school David Bowie and Billy Idol went to, in the early seventies. Kureishi, as the only Asian boy at school, found himself “caught between the working-class life of his friends in Bromley and the privileged background of his father’s family in Pakistan” (Childs 141). Later in his life Kureishi studied philosophy at London’s King’s College. Kaleta explains that Kureishi’s background was uncommon although he experienced a typical English childhood: “Although English, he did not grow up within the Church of England tradition; although Pakistani, he did not grow up within the Muslim tradition” (Kaleta 18). He further argues that Kureishi has “related his adolescent experiences growing up in the racially charged seventies” (19) which can be traced in his fiction. Kureishi explains his motivation for writing which stems from his position of a person from a mixed cultural background who experienced racism: “When people insult you, when friends of yours become skinheads and go out Paki-bashing and you don’t have anyone to talk to about your feelings and you’re far too nervous to confront your friends directly, you have to express yourself somehow” (qtd. in Kaleta 19). In his writing Kureishi does not focus on the conflicts between cultures, as the first generation of immigrant writers often do. On the contrary, he reflects discord between generations and within communities. In his texts he shows that cultural identities cannot be exclusively seen in terms of cultural difference, but need to be explored in relation to other differences of gender, sexual orientation, generation and class (Ranasinha 14). Kureishi tries to explore ‘a new way of being British’ and to “reconfigure dominant, exclusive constructions of Britain in the context of large-scale post-war immigration” (Ranasinha 1). Despite the fact that he shows a strong national identification in his texts, he also insists on a new definition of his nationalism:

I think English literature has changed enormously in the last ten years, because of writers from my background – myself, Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, Timothy Mo. You know, there are many, many of us, all with these strange names and some kind of colonial background. But we are part of English literature […] writing about England and all that that implies. Whatever I’ve written about, it’s all been about England in some way, even if the characters are Asian or they’re from Pakistan or whatever. I’ve always written about England, usually London. And that’s very English. Also the comic tradition, I think, is probably English, the mixture of seriousness and humor. Most of the pop music and the interest in pop music’s a very English thing. Everything I write is soaked in Englishness, I suppose. (qtd. in Kaleta 3)
As Kaleta implies, Kureishi suggests that “the dogma of nationalism is in conflict with the reality of today’s multicultural England” (Kaleta 3). Kureishi expresses the need to redefine the concepts of nation and nationalism in order to understand and accept the pluralistic British society which is full of contradictions and far from homogeneous. In his writing he tries to expose the complexity of the multicultural society within Britain and to contest essentialist and monocultural constructions of identity.

In his essay “The Rainbow Sign” Kureishi expresses his view of his own position as a migrant who stands between two cultures. He depicts his experiences as a boy growing up in London and his visit to Pakistan, the country of his ancestors from his father’s side. He portrays the life of a young person whose position is ambivalent and impure. Kureishi admits to having “no idea of what the sub-continent was like or how my numerous uncles, aunts and cousins lived there” (Kureishi 2002, 25). As a second generation immigrant to Britain he holds different views of the reality from his father who is more rooted. At school he was often mistakenly identified as an Indian boy by his teachers, due to the colour of his skin. Kureishi recalls: “I wondered: did my uncles ride on camels? Surely not in their suits? Did my cousins, so like me in other ways, squat down in the sand like little Mowglis, half-naked and eating with their fingers” (25)? Here Kureishi alludes to the character of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and suggests that his identity has been often imagined by others who saw him as an outsider in Britain, a theme that appears in The Buddha of Suburbia. In “The Rainbow Sign” Kureishi develops a position of someone ‘in-between’ who, although having a connection to a land overseas, was born in Britain and is British. However, his perceptions of belonging and home are not clear and as a young person who grew up in London, Kureishi finds it difficult to think of Pakistan, his father’s country, in terms of ‘home’ and admits to “a little identity crisis” (33). When he visits Karachi and listens to his uncles’ anti-British remarks, he starts feeling patriotic towards Britain. His identity crisis can be observed when an acquaintance tells him: “[…] we are Pakistanis, but you, you will always be a Paki – emphasizing the slang derogatory name the English used against Pakistanis, and therefore the fact that I couldn’t rightfully lay claim to either place” (34). At the end of his essay Kureishi acknowledges that the change in attitude towards immigrants and the notion of Britishness must come from the British:



I stress that it is the British who have to make these adjustments. It is the British, the white British, who have to learn that being British isn’t what it was. Now it is a more complex thing, involving new elements. So there must be a fresh way of seeing Britain and the choices it faces: and a new way of being British after all this time. Much thought, discussion and self-examination must go into seeing the necessity for this, what this ‘new way of being British’ involves and how difficult it might be to attain. (Kureishi 2002, 55)
The ‘new way of being British’ and the intermediate position of a young person growing up in London, are themes developed in Kureishi’s novels The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) and The Black Album (1995). Here, Kureishi shows the picture of contemporary British culture that is hybridized. In the novels the ambiguities of identity and its complexity as defined by immigration, culture and colour stand central, similarly as in other of Kureishi’s writing. What Kureishi imagines, is the hybrid, dynamic and heterogeneous society that is not hindered by concepts of racial and gender stereotypes. Kaleta asserts about Kureishi’s writing: “Kureishi flaunts a new national identity. Proclaiming that postcolonial immigration and mass communication have altered homogeneous English demographics, this insider-outsider confronts contemporary hybridity” (Kaleta 37). In his view, Kureishi’s novels “trace the redefinition of a generation’s identity”(79).

The Buddha of Suburbia is, in Yousaf’s view, a politically-nuanced and a comical story about contemporary Britain that is ahead of its time: “Its British protagonist of biracial heritage only found a category to tick on the national census form in 2001, and the appellation ‘mixed race’ still conveys little of the complex history of ethnic encounters in the UK with which Kureishi engages” (Yousef 27). Yousef suggests that BS uncovers many of the ironies that underlie the British people’s “recognition of Britain as a multicultural society and of Britons as racially diverse and culturally heterogeneous citizens” (27). Kureishi shows new ways of looking on “myths of Englishness and nationhood and attendant problems of nationalism” (31). As Yousef points out, the novel portrays mainly life in Britain and reworks Disraeli’s “two nations” of the “Victorian rich and poor as centre and margin, metropolitan and suburban” (28). Kureishi shows his interest in multiple conceptions of Britain and distances himself from the static and pure views on nation and belonging. As stated above, Kureishi portrays the hybrid reality of contemporary London which can be observed in his characters. Karim Amir’s description of “a proper Englishman – almost” (3) evidences this hybrid existence and emphasizes the condition of “an ambivalent cultural attachment” (Stein xii). Kureishi has described the source material of the novel as “south London in the 1970s, growing up as a semi-Asian kid; pop, fashion, drugs, sexuality” (qtd. in Childs 143). The narrator Karim, like Kureishi, comes from a mixed cultural background and is not inclined to embrace one rooted view of existence. In this sense, the notion of hybridity is constantly present in the novel. BS, to use Stein’s words, “disrespects conventional boundaries and refrains from placing its characters exclusively within one type of formation, be it an ethnic group, a cultural group, or a class” (Stein 115). Instead, Kureishi distorts boundaries. His characters do not embrace one group but are “afloat within the orbit of divergent groups” (Stein 115).

In The Buddha of Suburbia Kureishi examines, among other issues, the lives of the first generation of immigrants to Britain who adhere to the cultural values, traditions and beliefs of their homeland. Their perception of Britain differs from that of their children, the second generation that was ‘born and bred’ in Britain. For the first generation it is fundamental to define their position, to place themselves clearly and to achieve their dream of assimilation in the new land which they, most of the time, fail to accomplish. For the second generation, the possibilities are more open, and the need to define their position in the society is not so strong. The protagonist of BS Karim suggests in the opening passage of the novel: “My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories. But I don’t care […]” (3). Karim’s view of his position in contemporary British society suggests his acceptance of contradictions that are inevitable in the hybrid society that the London metropolis shapes. As a son of an English mother and an Indian father Karim finds himself located between two cultures. On the one hand he is confronted with the culture of his father Haroon, on the other hand he faces the culture of his English mother Margaret. Karim suggests: “Perhaps it is the odd mixture of continents and blood, of here and there, of belonging and not, that makes me restless and easily bored” (3). This introduces the main themes and preoccupations of the novel, which examines the concepts of belonging, home and cultural identity and focuses on the second generation’s hybrid identities. As Ruvani Ranasinha suggests, “Kureishi avers that notions of Asian and British cannot be defined separately” (12). She further asserts that Kureishi’s protagonists “live the potentials and experience the pitfalls of mixing and métissage” (13) and later claims that BS dramatizes the intersection of two colliding, absorbing social worlds (62). The opening passage of the novel implies that Karim sees himself as the product of an “odd mixture” and of “belonging and not” (3). He finds it hard to describe himself and place himself clearly in the society.



BS is often described as bearing traces of a bildungsroman which, in Abrams view, “depicts the ‘recognition’ of the protagonist’s ‘identity and role in the world” (qtd. in Stein 23). Ranasinha also claims that BS “blends conventions of the picaresque novel and the Bildungsroman, with Karim’s travels and encounters with an array of disparate characters driving his exploration of questions of identity” (Ranasinha 61). Kaleta claims that the novel continues “the tradition of the English novel that emphasizes antisocial elements, sexual excess, and adolescent rebellion as rites of initiation” (Kaleta 77). Kureishi describes The Buddha of Suburbia: “Looking back on the novel – though I might not like to admit it – I was influenced more by books like Lucky Jim and early Evelyn Waugh than I was by On the Road. You know funny books about boys growing up and getting into scrapes” (qtd. in Kaleta 77). BS opens with the protagonist Karim who accompanies his father Haroon to the Kays’, Eva’s family, where he preaches his Eastern wisdom to Eva’s guests while Karim spends time with Eva’s son, his school friend Charlie. In the course of the novel, Karim’s father Haroon starts a relationship with Eva and decides to leave his wife Margaret in order to pursue a more adventurous life in the city. Karim follows them and lives with his father, Eva and Charlie. He becomes an actor in a theatre, but realizes that he is only offered ‘ethnic’ roles due to his appearance. The novel closes with Karim pondering about his situation living “in the centre of this old city” that he loves, feeling both “happy and miserable” and hoping to live “more deeply” in the future (284). Despite the fact that Kureishi offers a picture of Haroon’s encounters and pictures the situation of the first generation of British immigrants, the novel focuses on Karim who stands central in Kureishi’s depiction of his hybrid cultural ‘in-between’ existence. Fundamentally, BS portrays Kureishi’s creation of the seventies London of the main protagonist Karim Amir and explores Karim’s identity in the multiracial Britain.

Kureishi’s second novel, The Black Album (1995), traces the life of the young British Asian Shahid Hassan, who, similarly as Karim in BS, grows up in London where he escapes as a student from suburban Kent. At college in London Shahid is fascinated by pop music and literature and is engaged, as Kureishi had been, in writing a novel about his life (Childs 143). BA depicts Shahid’s time in London and his exploration of his own identity and belonging. It focuses on Shahid’s position between the fundamentalism of his college friends and the kind of liberal individualism of his lecturer and lover Deedee Osgood. Ranasinha argues that “the choice is personified somewhat schematically between Shahid’s Asian neighbour, Riaz, a mature student and stern leader of the young Muslims […] and his white, liberal ex-hippie tutor Deedee Osgood who offers him sex, raves, Ecstasy and postmodern uncertainties” (Ranasinha 84). Deedee gives lectures about America and black discrimination: “[…] she described how, around the time of Presley, Negroes couldn’t even see a film in downtown Washington, their own capital. […] Her voice modulated with emotion as she spoke of King, Malcolm, Cleaver, Davis and the freedom riders” (27). Shahid finds himself between these two groups, the Muslim college friends like Riaz and Chad who resist and protest against the white supremacy, and Deedee who believes in education and freedom of expression. Chad tries to persuade Shahid about the illness of Western society: “They tell us what to wear, where to go, what to listen to. Ain’t we their slaves” (79)? He feels that Shahid is trapped by the music and fashion industries and suggests that he should not listen to music just because it is expected of him. Shahid does not share this view. He believes in art: “Life would be a desert otherwise” (79). The conflict between these two strands (the fundamental and the liberal) culminates when Shahid’s Muslim friends decide to burn a copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, although the title of Rushdie’s novel is not explicitly stated (Childs 144). Deedee tries to stop this from happening. She defends freedom of speech and as William suggests, “finds herself reaching the limits of her multi-cultural tolerance in her encounters with Riaz” (Williams). The Muslim students such as Chad and Riaz, on the other hand, express their views against the Western society and believe that Deedee criticizes minorities. The novel does not suggest a clear ending and does not show Shahid’s attachment to one or another group. Instead, as Childs points out, “the novel is broadly sympathetic to both positions” (Childs 144). Shahid longs for a stable cultural identity at times and finds it difficult to define his place: “The problem was, when he was with his friends their story compelled him. But when he walked out, like someone leaving a cinema, he found the world to be more subtle and inexplicable” (133). In connection to his identity, Shahid feels torn between different feelings and at the end of the novel he embraces ambiguity and impurity. He does not feel the need to belong to one group. It is his surroundings that make him question his identity: “Now, though, Shahid was afraid his ignorance would place him in no man’s land. These days everyone was insisting on their identity, coming out as a man, woman, gay, black, Jew – brandishing whichever features they could claim, as if without a tag they wouldn’t be human” (92). He decides to continue in the relationship with Deedee “until it stops being fun” (276). He sees that identity as such is dynamic and understands that it is impossible to confine to one single view or place in the world. In this sense, cultural identity in BA as exemplified in Shahid’s perceptions and views, is a fluid and changeable concept that undergoes transformation and is not perceived as complete.

Williams argues that BA involves “competing, discontinuous, and fragmented stories of all those people in the London of the late Eighties who would call themselves British […]” (Williams). The novel illustrates different positions, often conflicting ones, in the life of its characters. Child implies that BA is concerned with syncretism, in ways similar to Kureishi’s first novel BS: “[…] black and white, high and popular culture, Tory national and Labour local government, liberals and fundamentalists” (Childs 157). The text of the novel closes with Shahid’s and Deedee’s departure for the countryside where Shahid decides to embrace uncertainty. Stein asserts that in BA it is “the trope of motion which undermines states of rigidity and points toward the mutability of ethnic and postethnic affiliations” (Stein 127). As Stein confirms, Shahid, the protagonist of Kureishi’s postcolonial novel, takes ironically a course on colonialism and literature and is anxious to scrutinize “innumerable ways of being in the world” (127). As Kaleta asserts, “Shahid never accepts dogma, creed, or solution, leading him to reject the values of 1980s London as well. Shahid is a more definite character than Karim; he makes a choice not to commit” (Kaleta 147). He rejects views that require strict definitions of boundaries.

An important element in the portrayal of the characters’ cultural identities in The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album is culture, which is a fundamental component of Kureishi’s writing. Explorations of culture can be seen as a central subject of both novels. Kureishi’s writing, as Ranasinha points out, is “immersed in popular culture” which contrasts with the “more narrowly literary writings of earlier writers from a post-colonial background” (15). British pop music, with its roots in American music and youth culture, Kureishi remarks, “was always a part of my cultural vocabulary – far more than anything more esoteric” (qtd. in Ranasinha 15). Ranasinha further asserts:

For Kureishi, pop was the ‘first sort of common culture that [he] was ever aware of. His texts are permeated by transatlantic youth culture, not the Bollywood films informing Rushdie’s novels or Meera Syal and Gurinder Chadha’s Bhaji on the Beach (1993). Kureishi breaks the conventions of realism but not by using ‘Asian’ influences. This ‘Englishness’ redefines expectations about the writing and culture of minority artists. (Ranasinha 15)


In his The Faber Book of Pop (1995) Kureishi explains: “[…] writing about pop introduces us to the fringes of the respectable world, to marijuana, generational conflict, clubs, parties, and to a certain kind of guiltless, casual sex that had never been written about before” (qtd. in Ranasinha 15). As Ranasinha suggests, “it is in this ‘fringe world’ of city culture that Kureishi’s work is located, imbuing it with its distinctive metropolitan, hip quality” (15). In her view, The Buddha of Suburbia marks the transition from “the tail end of sixties hippie culture, the Beatles’ interest in India, flares and the Stones, to the Sex Pistols and the punk scene” (63). Karim is interested in pop culture and music. When he visits a pub with his father Haroon and Eva, he observes how young people around him dress and what they talk about: “The little groovers talked esoterically of Syd Barrett. To have an elder brother who lived in London and worked in fashion, music or advertising was an inestimable advantage at school. I had to study the Melody Maker and New Musical Express to keep up” (8). For Karim, London offers a lot of opportunities as far as music and popular culture is concerned: “So I usually sipped spicy tea and listened to records all night. I favoured the tuneless: King Crimson, Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa and Wild Man Fisher. It was easy to get most of the music you wanted from the shops in the High Street” (62). Karim is more into music than school. He is involved with a “pop-star school chum and becomes immersed in experimental theatre” (Kaleta 72). Kaleta implies that musical trends have particular importance in and to Kureishi’s stories: “Song titles, musical groups, and genres of rock music pervade the fiction. Music is consistently mentioned as a cultural and historical occurrence […]” (Kaleta 8). One of the visible features in connection to music and popular culture in BS is the influence of David Bowie, whom Kureishi new from Bromley and who was tied to the character of Charlie, the “Bowie-loving, Bowie-like character” (Kaleta 107). In BS Kureishi portrays Charlie Kay, Karim’s school friend, who becomes Charlie Hero, who can be, in Kaleta’s view, seen as “a second-string David Bowie” (Kaleta 73). Kaleta suggests: “Since Bowie also attended Kureishi’s Bromley school, the fact that he composed the title song and incidental music for the television version of Kureishi’s novel further amplifies this tie of the story to Kureishi’s autobiography” (73). According to Kaleta, one critic wrote that “Karim’s rites of passage story was appropriately serenaded by Bromley-born Bowie’s Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes” (Kaleta 107). Bowie, who was a figure of the seventies, defined the decade with his music. In BS Karim becomes involved with Charlie, the son of his father’s lover Eva. The connection to Bowie is explicitly suggested in the novel:

One of the boys was Charlie […]. He looked less winsome and poetic now; his face was harder, with short hair, the cheekbones more pronounced. It was Bowie’s influence, I knew. Bowie, then called David Jones, had attended our school several years before, and there, in a group photograph in the dining hall, was his face. Boys were often to be found on their knees before this icon, praying to be made into pop stars […]. (68)


According to Ranasinha, Kureishi’s emphasis on pop is neither unconnected nor in a contradictory relation to his ethnic location: “In the sixties and seventies youth subcultures and ethnic cultures were both positioned in a marginal and contestatory relationship to the dominant culture, although they were also situated against each other” (16). The Faber Book of Pop, influenced by Dick Hebdige’s work, as Ranasinha claims, underscores youth culture’s subversive potential, citing Staurt Hall:

[…] popular culture always has its base in the experiences, the pleasures, the memories, the traditions of people […] Hence, it links with what Mikhail Bakhtin calls ‘the vulgar’ – the popular, the informal, the underside, the grotesque. That is why it has always been counterposed to elite or high culture, and is thus a site of alternative traditions. And that is why the dominant tradition has always been afraid of it, quite rightly. (qtd. in Ranasinha 16)


Ranasinha points out that Karim does not pursue a discrete ethnic identity, but rather is “immersed in youth subculture that is itself a way of avoiding racialized environments” (68). In his fiction, Kureishi provides references to pop songs. As Ranasinha asserts, in The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album, “’visceral’, ‘sensual’ pop songs are invoked to register the ‘exhilaration’ and ‘momentary but powerful impulse’ the ‘teenage sexual longing’ of his libidinous fictional protagonists” (Ranasinha 16). BS, as Kaleta argues, “electrifies the social momentum reflected in pop music” (81), which is why music is important for Kureishi’s novel.

Influences of culture on other characters, and mainly those of the second generation, can be observed on Jamila’s interests. As a daughter of an Indian father, she feels ashamed of her father’s culture and patriotic authority. As Ranasinha suggests, Jamila aspires to develop a critical consciousness and educates herself with the work of feminist intellectuals such as Germaine Greer and Kate Millet. Her political orientation is inspired by the expression of the black power movements in America, such as the writing of Angela Davis and Malcolm X (68). She is immersed in reading and music from her young age: “At the age of thirteen Jamila was reading non-stop, Baudelaire and Colette and Radiguet and all that rude lot, and borrowing records of Ravel, as well as singers popular in France, like Billie Holliday” (52).

Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia reinvents the music and fashions of the seventies, and as Kaleta points out, “it also gives us that decade without the contradictions, reservations, or confusions experienced by living through it” (Kaleta 82-83). Kureishi portrays the seventies through the novels’ protagonist Karim. Kaleta describes the seventies in the novel: “A decade in which, in terms of religion and tradition, the deities of Asia give way to the gods of Empire and Rock, in which art’s place in our pop culture world is questioned, and in which assimilation and identity collide” (84).

In The Black Album Kureishi also incorporates references to music and culture which form, similarly as in BS, an important element of the novel. The title of the novel itself is taken from a recording of Prince, “itself named in sassy response to the Beatles’ The White Album” (Kaleta 141). As Kaleta implies, “Prince is the idol of the novel’s characters because he is ‘half black and half white, half man and half woman, half size, feminine but macho’” (141). The novel takes its title from a rare album by Prince, as Childs points out, “made in the face of accusations that he was losing touch with his black musical roots – whose title plays on that of the Beatles record popularly known as The White Album” (Childs 157). Shahid is a fan of Prince and in his room at college he has a “bed, table, a bunch of Prince records, and a ton of books” (18). Culture and art play an important role in Shahid’s life:

There were many Matisses – he liked to think that Matisse was the one artist about whom nothing bad could be said; Blu-tacked up were Liotard’s portrait of Marry Gunning, Peter Blake’s Venice Beach meeting of himself, Hockney and Howard Hodgkin, several Picassos, Millais’s strange Isabella, a photograph of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jean Genet, Jane Birkin lying on a bed, and dozens of others which he had torn from his bedroom and brought to London. (19-20)
In BA, similarly as in BS, fluid, ethnic, gendered and sexual identities are scrutinized in terms of the transitory nature of youth culture (Ranasinha 17). Shahid oscillates between different views, between belief and worship, between intellectual pleasures and simple pleasures of the body, between cultural assimilation and cultural identity (Kaleta 145). In this way, he challenges the dilemmas in which immigrants in contemporary Britain find themselves.

Both of Kureishi’s novels show a relationship to colonialism and postcolonialism. But as Stein suggests, they can be considered “self-consciously” postcolonial because the expectations of the field are, in his view, “neither rejected wholesale nor noiselessly imbibed” but instead these expectations are “embraced, parodied, and tempered with” (Stein 115). In the next chapters I want to look at some of the concepts connected to postcolonialism, such as nationalism, ethnicity, race, generational clash, belonging and location, and look at how these notions influence the perception of cultural identities in the novels.



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