Monday, May 05, 2014

Reading Hanif Kureishi's "Reading my Father"

In the early 90s, I moved from NYC to small town Texas to attend college. It was culture shock that I was unprepared for. It was not simply the change of location but also that I was at a school (Texas A&M) renowned for its conservatism. It plunged me into an identity crisis, one that had already been there prior to the move but now, in a place where I really didn't belong, around people that I had a hard time relating to, it overtook my life. Books had always been my refuge, but nothing in the American canon that I'd read came anywhere close to my experience in America, either in NYC or in Texas. The Indian-American experience seemed barren to American culture.
During a summer of wandering around India, I came across The Rainbow Sign, Hanif Kureishi's essay about growing up in Britain. It was as transformative as reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I had come back to India with the idea that India was where I belonged (even though I'd grown up abroad) and being back in the place of my birth would clear all the confusion from my life. It is this convoluted idea that is at the heart of The Rainbow Sign and .

After The Rainbow Sign, I read/saw most of Kureishi's work. Some of it blew me away. 'My Son the Fanatic' seemed to be an exploration of the roots of 9/11 well before 9/11. 'The Buddha of Suburbia' could've been the story of my discovery of NYC. As I got older and my identity crisis receded, reading and Kureishi occupied less space in my life. Recently, I came across Kureishi's memoir about his father and bought it on impulse.

Well, maybe not fully on impulse as I'd been thinking about my father quite a lot lately, as I too am a father and am realizing all the things he has been through and done for me growing up. So Kureishi reflecting on his father was perhaps something that I could no resist.

'Reading my Father' is a mixed bag. There are long bits of reviewing the work of his father, which I found thoroughly uninteresting. However, when he talks about his life, growing up, becoming a father himself, discovering the community that would become the basis of 'My Son the Fanatic', his troubles with writing, drugs, drink, women, I found all of that wildly interesting. It really gave me a sense of where his writing was coming from, of the internal demons he's had to deal with. I also really dug the stories of his father and his brothers, how their relationships played out when he was growing up as it reminded me a lot of my mother's brothers and idolizing them growing up.

In the end, I'm not sure how to recommend this book other than to say that if you're a fan of Kureishi, its well worth your while but if you're not and have not seen 'My beautiful Landrette', rent that first ,  and read 'The Rainbow sign' before considering if you'd like to check this book out.


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