Review of 'The Impressionist' by Hari Kunzru

The ImpressionistThe Impressionist by Hari Kunzru
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fabulous work - a response to/reverse take on Kipling's 'Kim', this novel follows one young man's attempt to discover, or create, his own identity. From a high caste Indian home in Agra, via prostitution, public school and the hallowed grounds of Oxford University, to the unmapped lands of Africa, we follow Pran Nath's journey to find self. At times Kunzru is laugh out loud funny, reminiscent of Tom Sharpe at his best, but the humour is balanced with sober moments as the impact of British Imperialism is felt on all - black, white and all the shades in-between.

Like 'Kim' this novel highlights how racism exists not only within the imperialist mindset but also within the 'native' one. Neither wholly English or Indian, Pran falls into the gulf that lies between and struggles to find the identity that best suits him. But without doubt, it is the imperialist machine (and reactions both negative and positive that arise from it)that causes Pran to suffer.

This is a well-written novel, with pace changes that make one pause and think but, that all the time keeps you flowing nicely to the end. Pran sheds his skins so effectively that it is difficult to build an affinity to him, but throughout I felt sorry for the boy within, and could empathise with the decisions he made - even the most unsavoury.

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