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From The New York Times Magazine, a profile of Kureishi by: Rachel Donadio.
One of the most revealing insights into Britain’s recent social history comes early in “My Son the Fanatic,” Hanif Kureishi’s tender and darkly prescient 1997 film. It’s morning in an unnamed city in northern England, and Parvez, a secular Pakistani immigrant taxi driver brilliantly portrayed by Om Puri, watches Farid, his increasingly devout college-age son, sell his electric guitar. “Where is that going?” Parvez asks Farid as the buyer drives off. “You used to love making a terrible noise with these instruments!” Farid, played by Akbar Kurtha, looks at his father with irritation. “You always said there were more important things than ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ” he says impatiently in his thick northern English accent. “You couldn’t have been more right.”
This seemingly casual exchange cuts to the heart of almost everything that has animated Kureishi in nearly three decades as a playwright, screenwriter, novelist and essayist. This is, after all, the man who co-edited “The Faber Book of Pop” and whose films and novels—including “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “The Buddha of Suburbia”—are filled with raucous sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. But this is also the man who had the presence of mind to poke around in English mosques in the late ’80s and early ’90s, sensing that something might be stirring there, as indeed it was. Kureishi’s novel “The Black Album,” set in 1989 and named after a Prince album, explored the growing discontent, disenfranchisement and radicalism of some young British Muslims. Not so many people were paying attention back in 1995, when it first appeared, but 10 years later, when bombings rocked central London on July 7, the collective consciousness had begun to catch up.
— My Beautiful London, Aug. 8, 2008.
The connections; the causalities
The Buddha of Suburbia, coming so soon after My Beautiful Laundrette, put Kureishi in a unique position. He was both a popular bestseller and critically acclaimed. He had made those links between Bombay and Bromley, reconciling the one to the other. Within British culture, he was both an icon of multiculturalism and its gadfly, especially to the rising generation of new Britons. Zadie Smith remembers her first reading of The Buddha of Suburbia, aged 15: “There was one copy going round our school like contraband. I read it in one sitting in the playground and missed all my classes. I’d never read a book about anyone remotely like me before.”
The public phase of Kureishi’s quest for meaning and identity was over. Indeed, it would be Zadie Smith in White Teeth who would make the significant creative advance on to the new ground broken by The Buddha of Suburbia. Kureishi was personally rich (“a little overwhelmed at the number of cheques that turned up at my council flat”), but the well of his imagination was depleted. Or, to put it another way, he had possibly expended so much creative energy in achieving the literary synthesis so dazzlingly displayed in Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia that there was no more fuel in his tank. Creatively, he had made a unique statement, based on a profound interrogation of himself. Like many literary pioneers, he could break out of the matrix of his imagination only with the greatest difficulty.
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