The Buddha of Suburbia


Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Hanif Kureishi

The Buddha of Suburbia is semi-autobiographical: Kureishi was born in Kent to a Pakistani father and an English mother, and his father was from a wealthy family. Kureishi attended several colleges and finally completed a philosophy degree at King's College London. His writing career began when he started writing pornography, and he soon moved on to writing for theatre. Kureishi began experiencing major success in 1985 with his screenplay My Beautiful Launderette. The film was directed by Stephen Frears, and it won both an Academy Award and the New York Film Critics Best Screenplay Award. The Buddha of Suburbia was wildly successful: it won several awards and was made into a television series, complete with a soundtrack by David Bowie. Despite his success, Kureishi has garnered criticism in regards to his personal life. His family has accused him of exploiting them, and they state that many of the "semi-autobiographical" elements of his work are entirely fictional. His sister in particular has been vocal about this, saying that their family was never working class, their mother didn't work in a shoe factory, and that their father didn't speak to Kureishi for a year after Buddha's publication because of how Kureishi portrayed him. Similarly, his 1998 novel Intimacy created controversy because it portrays a man leaving his wife and young children. Many assumed it was autobiographical as Kureishi had done the same not long before the novel was published. Kureishi has three children with the film producer Tracey Scoffeild and lives in West London.
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Historical Context of The Buddha of Suburbia

The 1970s were a decade of change worldwide. Many former colonies of Britain had obtained independence in the 20 years previous, and the 1960s brought social change in the form of drugs, legalization of abortion in the UK in 1967, and the ideas of free love, peace, and sexual permissiveness as espoused by the hippies. These ideas of the 1960s permeate the beginning of the novel but soon give way to the economic recessions and social discontent that England experienced later in the decade. Amidst this backdrop and despite economic depression, the British middle class thrived during the 1970s. Though Karim is mostly involved with more liberal politics, the seventies also saw the rise of neo-Nazi political parties such as the National Front. The National Front expressed strong anti-immigrant sentiment and supported sending immigrants back to their countries of origin. After the so-called Winter of Discontent in 1978-79, England elected Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. She represented a major swing towards conservatism in British politics. Buddha often mentions the animosity between Pakistan and India, which is a result of the partition of British India in 1947. British India included modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka and was split into two self-governing countries, Pakistan and India, in 1947. This created a massive refugee crisis as individuals from different religions crossed the India-Pakistan border, and it resulted in intense violence.

Other Books Related to The Buddha of Suburbia

Many of the books and plays that Karim encounters throughout the novel relate thematically to the novel itself: Jack Kerouac's On the Road follows a similar vein of a physical journey and features heavy drug use; Jamila reads Simone Beauvoir's book The Second Sex, which is widely considered to be the starting point of second wave feminism; and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is innately imperialist, racist, and reflective of England's questionable views on India and Indian people. Many of Hanif Kureishi's other novels explore similar themes of immigration, youth culture, and coming of age, most notably his second novel, The Black Album. Buddha also shares broad similarities with novels such as Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Americanah, as they portray the immigrant experience of coming from previously colonized countries to England, just as Haroon does.
Key Facts about The Buddha of Suburbia
  • Full Title: The Buddha of Suburbia
  • When Written: Late 1980s
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1990
  • Literary Period: Contemporary; Postcolonial
  • Genre: Bildungsroman; Family Drama
  • Setting: The suburbs and city of London throughout the 1970s, ending in 1979
  • Climax: When Karim realizes he's outgrown his love and admiration for Charlie
  • Antagonist: There's no real singular antagonist; Karim primarily tackles systematic racism and classism, as well as the widespread discontent of 1970s England.
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Buddha of Suburbia

Pseudonyms. When Kureishi wrote pornography, one of the names he wrote under was Karim.