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by Hari Kunzru
ISBN 0241141699 / 9780241141694 / 0-241-14169-9
Publisher Hamish Hamilton / Penguin Group
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The antihero of The Impressionist, Hari Kunzru's daringly ambitious first novel, is half English and half Indian. In the Raj of the 1920s, the racial and social divides are enormous, but Pran Nath is able to bridge them, crossing from one side to another in a series of reinventions of his own personality. He begins as the spoiled child of an Indian lawyer, but circumstances thrust him out of his pampered adolescence into the teeming and dangerous life of the streets. After a bewildering period as one of the pawns in Machiavellian political and sexual scheming in the decadent court of a minor Maharajah, he escapes to Bombay. There he is taken up by a half-demented Scottish missionary and his wife, but Pran Nath prefers to slope off to the city's red-light district whenever he can. During a time of riot and bloodshed, the chance of re-creating himself as an English schoolboy destined for public school and Oxford presents itself, and he takes it. But this is not his final transformation.
In certain ways Kunzru is almost too ambitious. There is so much crammed onto the pages of The Impressionist that some of it, almost inevitably, doesn't work as well as it might. However, as the shapeshifting Pran Nath moves from one identity to another, knockabout farce mixes with satire, social comedy with parody. And beneath the comic exuberance and linguistic invention, there is an intelligent and occasionally moving examination of notions of self, identity, and what it means to belong to a class or society. --Nick Rennison, Amazon.co.uk [via]