Kunzru, Hari 1969-
KUNZRU, Hari 1969-
PERSONAL: Born 1969, in London, England; son of an Indian doctor (father) and an English nurse (mother). Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1991; Warwick University, M.A., 1995.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—Curtis Brown, Haymarket House, 2-29 Haymarket, London, SW1Y 4SP England. E-mail—ha[email protected]
CAREER: Freelance journalist, playwright, television host, and editor. Regular guest on television programs, including BBC Newsnight Review and Start the Week. Member of judging panel, Guardian First Book Award, National Design Award, Index on Censorship Human Rights Awards, and the Turner Prize. Has worked variously as a waiter, van driver, juggler, telemarketer, disc jockey, decorator, and promotions coordinator.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named Young Travel Writer of the Year, Observer, 1999; Guardian Prize for First Book shortlist, 2002, Whitbread first novel prize shortlist, British Book Award shortlist, Saroyan Prize shortlist, Publishers Weekly best novels of 2002 distinction, New York Public Library's 2002 Books to Remember distinction, Los Angeles Times Award shortlist, Betty Trask Prize, 2003, Somerset Maugham Award, 2003, Pendleton May first novel award, and John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (declined), all for The Impressionist; New York Times notable book of the year distinction, for Transmission; named one of Granta Best of Young British Novelists, 2003; British Book Awards Decibel Writer of the Year Award, 2005.
The Impressionist (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
Transmission (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 2004.
Noise (short stories), Penguin (London, England), 2005.
Also author of play, Sound Mirrors, with musical group Coldcut, broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Guardian (London), Daily Telegraph (London), Economist, Time Out, Interview, London Review of Books, and Wired. Wallpaper magazine, music editor; Mute, contributing editor; Wired UK, associate editor. Author's works have been translated into eighteen languages.
ADAPTATIONS: The Impressionist was adapted as an audiobook by HarperAudio, 2002, and is being adapted to film by Mira Nair.
SIDELIGHTS: The son of a Kashmiri father and a British mother, Hari Kunzru grew up in England, studied at Oxford, earned a degree at Warwick, and worked as a journalist for several periodicals. "At Oxford, I noticed how much people play out a comedy of Englishness, which made me very interested in identity role-playing in post-colonial Britain," Kunzru told Richard Alleyne of the London Daily Telegraph. This experience inspired Kunzru, while working as the presenter for a satellite television program, to write The Impressionist, about a mixed-blood Indian-English young man, Pran Nath. He completed the work in a little more than two years, and the novel made headlines in the media even before it was published, for Kunzru received an exceptionally large advance.
The plot revolves around the efforts of the young man, whose name changes with each role he plays, to make a place for himself in the world. During the monsoon of 1903 he was conceived by a British explorer and a drug-addicted high-caste Indian girl. Although he is raised by the Indian family, eventually the boy's mixed-blood heritage is revealed and he is thrown out on the street. Over the course of the novel, he becomes a sex slave at a brothel, bait in a blackmail plot, and the adopted son of English missionaries. When the chance arrives, he assumes the identity of a young British man who was killed in a riot. He goes to England, where he attends public school, then Oxford University. Finally he travels to Africa as part of a doomed anthropological expedition.
"Throughout the book, Hari Kunzru has pursued an odd strategy of alternately arousing sympathy for his hero and quashing it," noted Adam Mars-Jones in the London Observer. For his part, Kunzru acknowledges a debt to Rudyard Kipling's character Kim in an epigraph. Kunzru explained to London Independent Sunday writer Suzi Feay that "Kim is the fantasy of the white subject who can see the hidden easternness of things. I wanted to change that round, to make western whiteness the exotic thing. I have worried in the past that I've not felt anchored to things, not felt committed. Part of it is being mixed-race." "I've always been very scared of people who are certain," Kunzru added. "Nothing terrifies me more than a religious fundamentalist who really knows what right is and is prepared to do violence to what they consider is wrong…. I wanted to write in praise of the unformed and fluid."
The Impressionist "is a picaresque stitch," wrote David Kipen in the San Francisco Chronicle, "a deadly seri-ous book about race and empire that can still put a reader on the floor with the exquisitely timed comic understatement of its language." Although London Daily Telegraph critic David Flusfeder noted that "anachronisms abound" in The Impressionist, he also commented on "many good set pieces" and "some lovely writing." Other enthusiasts of the work included Booklist writer Kristine Huntley, who predicted that "readers will be busily pondering this wonderful, multilayered novel," and Mabe, who described the novel as "frequently magnificent, often magnificently entertaining." New York Times contributor Janet Maslin concluded, "Nothing about The Impressionist flags it as a first effort. Mr. Kunzru writes with wry certitude and cinematic precision about identity, aspiration, and rootlessness, set against the backdrop of a Britannia that is pure mirage."
In Kunzru's second novel, Transmission, brilliant Indian computer programmer and Bollywood fanatic Arjun Mehta is lured, under false pretenses, to a job in the United States. When he arrives, he finds that the job does not actually exist, shattering his unrealistic dream of finding wealth, fame, and plentiful sex in prosperous America. After a year of unemployment, he is hired at an anti-virus company in Washington state. While there, he becomes involved with fellow techie Christine Schnorr. The painful end of their brief fling comes just as the Internet bubble is bursting, and Arjun faces bleak prospects romantically and financially. To help cement his fortunes, he writes and releases the Leela virus, named in honor of his favorite Bollywood actress, Leela Zahir. The virus is an especially pernicious bug that shuts down vital utilities and devastates global business. Arjun's plan is to come to the rescue by creating the means to defeat the threat he has created, and thereby ensure his continued employment (and possible fame as a sort of conquering hero). As Leela mutates into ever-more-destructive strains, however, Arjun finds that he no longer has any power over his creation, and that the experiences he thought would enrich him are now about to destroy him instead. "This is not a coming-of-age novel—it is a coming-apart novel," commented Nora Seton in the Houston Chronicle. Coinciding with the story of Arjun's gradual dissolution is that of Leela Zahir herself, whose career has taken a savage hit because of the virus, and British advertising executive Guy Swift and his girlfriend, Gaby, whose already fragile grip on self and career is about to be loosened by the effects of Arjun's virus. "Like an old PC, the novel starts slow, but once it finally boots up, the momentum of the interconnected stories is impressive and engaging, bolstered by Kunzru's carefully considered details and his lively portrayal of an increasingly globalized technocracy that blends the world's cultures even as it further isolates its individuals," observed Stephen M. Deusner in a review on the Book Reporter Web site. "Kunzru keeps his clever plot's wheels spinning merrily, all the while tracing the social and emotional consequences of Arjun's mingled indignation, guilt and fear," stated Bruce Allen in Hollywood Reporter. Publishers Weekly contributor Steven Zeitchik called Kunzru "an eloquent author who combines a precocious sweep of history with a keen eye for the future."
Kunzru's first short story collection, Noise, appeared in 2005. Hindustan Times contributor Swapnil Rai noted that the stories concern topics such as "technology, the dot-com phenomenon, and the wired generation—subjects which Kunzru knows from the inside out."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Age (Melbourne, Australia), July 15, 2002, Zulfikar Abbany, "Fading Away in the Fog of Identity," review of The Impressionist.
Booklist, November 15, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of The Impressionist, p. 554.
Boston Herald, June 6, 2004, J.L. Johnson, "Viral Infraction: Programmer's Tale of Woe Has Net Worth," review of Transmission.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), March 27, 2001, Richard Alleyne, "Unknown Writer Paid Pounds 1.25 m for First Book," p. 6; March 23, 2002, David Flusfeder, "Agra Saga," p. 6.
Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), July 23, 2005, Swapnil Rai, "Hari Kunzru: Journey of Self Discovery," profile of Hari Kunzru.
Hollywood Reporter, October 11, 2004, Bruce Allen, review of Transmission, p. 10.
Houston Chronicle, April 13, 2004, Nora Seton, review of Transmission.
Independent Sunday (London, England), March 31, 2002, Suzi Feay, "The Man Who Would Be Kim," p. 17.
New York Magazine, April 8, 2002, Daniel Mendelsohn, "Karma Chameleon," review of The Impressionist.
New York Times, March 28, 2002, Janet Maslin, "Changing Identities as Often as Socks," p. E10; May 23, 2004, Walter Kirn, "Dateless in Seattle," review of Transmission, p. 7.
Observer (London, England), March 31, 2002, Adam Mars-Jones, "East Is East and West Is West and Here the Twain Shall Meet," p. 13.
People, April 15, 2002, Alec Foege, review of The Impressionist, p. 43; June 21, 2004, John Freeman, review of Transmission, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, November 19, 2001, review of The Impressionist, p. 45; June 21, 2004, Steven Zeitchik, "Hari Kunzru: Speeding toward a (Cloudy) Future," profile of Hari Kunzru, p. 39.
Reviewer's Bookwatch, August, 2004, Emanuel Carpenter, review of Transmission.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 7, 2002, David Kipen, "Incarnation of Kunzru's Part-Indian, Part-British Hero," p. 1.
School Library Journal, October, 2004, Matthew L. Moffett, review of Transmission, p. 199.
Scotland on Sunday, May 23, 2004, Andrew Crumey, review of Transmission.
Time International, June 24, 2002, Bryan Walsh, review of The Impressionist, p. 72.
Time International (Asian edition), July 26, 2004, Aravind Adiga, "Poking Holes in the Net: Hari Kunzru's New Novel Is a Hilarious Satire about the Wired World," p. 94.
Book Page, http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 4, 2005), Alden Mudge, "Identity Crisis: The Many Faces of an Amazing Traveler," interview with Hari Kunzru; Max Winter, review of Transmission.
Book Reporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 4, 2005), Jen Robbins, review of The Impressionist; Stephen M. Deusner, review of Transmission.
Hari Kunzru Home Page, http://www.harikunzru.com (September 5, 2005), biography of Hari Kunzru.
Manchester Online Web Site, http://www.manchesteronline.co.uk/ (April, 21, 2005), "Controversial Novel Named Book of the Year."
Time of the Writer Festival 2005 Web Site, http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za/images/tow/TOW2005/ (September 5, 2005), biography of Hari Kunzru.