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Kureishi in 1970. Photo from the Telegraph (click on photo for link)

Kureishi says the form of the book is going to be haphazard – and that’s exactly what happens. A hybrid between a memoir of his father’s life (mediated through an interpretation of his father’s unpublished novels – and his uncle’s published memoirs in Pakistan) and an examination into writing as an entity with copious insight into some of Kureishi’s inspirations –  including Chehkov and Freud. Sometimes it’s not always apparent how they link and it can lapse into episodic musings that seem irrelevant to each other. But this does not detract from how interesting the book is, which is down to how the three central stories are woven: Kureishi’s father’s life, Kureishi’s childhood, and the present day Kureishi with his children. What this does is show us the roots of Kureishi’s life, which are not always what you would expect, linking the second generation to the first generation immigrant. Kureishi’s fiction is often so much about the ‘now’, the contemporary, which makes this delving into the past so significant for whose who are familiar with his writing. In this respect, I feel the content may overshadow the form- emphasis is so often placed on Kureishi’s ethnicity and so the story threatens to overshadow what is a cleverly written form – not quite a memoir, somewhat a journal, yet not entirely an autobiography.

Reading the memoir of a writer you know well inevitably makes you link their work to their life. It becomes apparent (both in ways he admits to and not) how autobiographical Kureishi’s work really is – not just The Buddha of Surburbia but more recently (published in 2008 – 4 years after his memoir) Something to Tell You in which the main character is a psychoanalyst (Kureishi has experience with psychoanalysing and is influenced heavily by Freud).  Rather than change the way I thought about his novels, this served to highlight how inevitable it is for an author to draw on what they know.

Overall, the book made me reflect on the general label ‘postcolonial’. Whereas Kureishi’s father’s unpublished stories and experience of moving to Britain as well as Kureishi’s childhood experiences of racism can be easily deemed ‘postcolonial’, the Kureishi of today is surely not so easily placed under this title. Where do we draw the line? Kureishi is certainly a product of British colonialism – the links of Britain and India from the colonial era contributed to the immigration of Indians to Britain after independence. And the troubles caused by partition led to many immigrants favouring Britain over returning home. Does this mean Kureishi’s sons also have a ‘postcolonial’ identity? Are all South-Asian people living in Britain today a product of colonialism? No- this is surely an insult to people who have firm identities outside of an event that happened over 60 years ago. So where do we draw the line?

How ‘in touch’ with the homeland second generation immigrants are becomes clear as Kureishi describes how only ‘bits of India, or rather bits that existed in his family, stuck to dad. They were mostly cultural: cricket, books, music, politics’. Not all of this is handed down to Kureishi – his father does not speak to him in Urdu, but he does try to involve him in cricket. When reading his Uncle Omar’s autobiography, Kureishi is shocked by his passing comment of Islamic belief, saying ‘I ‘d never imagined a liberal and literary man finding a combination of social hope and justice in a religion which, for me, can only seem a betrayal of our family’s values.’ This brings to light how religious belief often is what defines (first/second generation) immigrants into a set of binaries: religious as fundamental or non-religious as westernised, liberal (=literary), when obviously there are many gradients within the spectrum of religious belief.