Reading and discussion questions for The Buddha of Suburbia

Bridget Moloney '05, Brian Orloff '06, Emily Weiss '06, Recent Asian Diaspora Fiction, Northwestern University

1. Karim's identity is difficult to define simply. Sexually, he identifies himself as neither heterosexual nor homosexual. Similarly, he identifies both with British and Indian culture as he negotiates between the two in his life. Discuss the relationship between Karim's sexual identity and the identity he claims as an "Englishman born and bred, almost." Are there connections between the two? How can Karim be understood as a liminal character? Consider, in your answer, his sexual relationships and friendships with Charlie, Eleanor, Pike, Jamila and Anwar.

2. Both Haroon and Charlie achieve social success through their clever marketing of culture. Haroon wins acclaim and financial success through his appropriations of Buddhist teachings, beliefs that are not endemic to his worldview and background. Similarly, Charlie sells his English identity. Examine Haroon and Charlie's social successes and the path both take to achieve said prominence. On whom do they rely? Consider cultural consumption, materialism and commodification of beliefs and objects. What differences can be drawn at the novel's end?

3. Karim plays Mowgli in Shadwell's production of "The Jungle Book" and a version  of Changez in Pyke's London show. As Karim chnges roles in the plays he also changes his role as a suburban British-Indian. How does Karim's Indian identity change once he's entered the theatre world of London? Consider Karim's stereotyped role in Shadwell's production of "The Jungle Book." In addition, how does Pyke's direction affect Karim's acting and social choices in the theatre? Specifically how do his romantic predictions for the cast come true involving Karim and Eleanor? Incorporate Terry's working class beliefs into Karim's point of view of the London social scene.

4. Throughout the book, Karim longs to assimilate into his cultural environment whether it be the suburbs of London, London, or New York. How does Karim's desire to fit into a group coincide with Terry's view of "using the system to abuse the system"? Consider the individual actors' political views in comparison to Terry's. How would Terry view Pyke and his wife Marlene's upper class lifestyle? Also consider what Terry's opinion of Karim's suburban neighborhood would be. Compare Karim's dependency to Charlie and Haroon's independence.

5. Karim thinks Jamila marries Anwar "out of perversityŠMarrying Changez would be, in her mind, a rebellion against rebellion, creative novelty itself.  Everything in her life would be disrupted, experimented with.  She claimed to be doing it only for Jeeta, but there was real, willful contrariness in it, I suspected" (82).  Is Karim's theory supported?  Does Jamila marry him as another experiment in her political identity?  Or does she do it for her mother as she suggests, or is it a concession to her father and her own ethnic identity?  Consider the life she leads with him after the marriage.

6. Anwar goes on a hunger strike to demonstrate his unhappiness and his daughter's rejection of her ethnic heritage, or what he views as her right and responsibility as the daughter of an Indian family.  Haroon on the other hand commits adultery and seems almost disinterested in traditional (be they Indian or British) family values.  But how does the idea of an imagined India effect both Haroon and Anwar's actions, most specifically in their relationships to their families.  Chapter 14 address some of these issues directly.

References

Kureishi, Hanif. The Buddha of Suburbia. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.


United Kingdom H. Kureishi

Last modified 4 December 2003