Summary and book reviews of The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

The Impressionist

By Hari Kunzru

The Impressionist
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Mar 2002,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2003,
    416 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Fathered, through circuitous circumstances, by an Englishman, Pran Nath Razdan, the boy who will become the Impressionist, was passed off by his Indian mother as the child of her husband, a wealthy man of high caste. Growing up spoiled in a life of luxury just down river from the Taj Mahal, at fifteen the news of Pran's true parentage is revealed to his father and he is tossed out into the street - a pariah and an outcast. Thus begins an extraordinary, near-mythical journey of a young man who must reinvent himself to survive - not once, but many times. Imprisoned by a brothel and dressed in women's clothes, his sensuous beauty is exploited as he is made to become Rukhsana, a pawn in a game between colony and empire. To a depraved British Major he becomes Clive, an object of desire taught to be a model English schoolboy. Escaping to Bombay he begins a double life as Robert, dutiful foster child to a Scottish missionary couple and as Pretty Bobby, errand boy and sometime pimp to the tawdry women of the city's most notorious district.

But as political unrest begins to stir, Pran finds himself in the company of a doomed young Englishman - an orphan named Jonathan Bridgeman. Having learned quickly that perception is a ready replacement for reality, Pran soon finds himself on a boat bound for Southampton where, with Bridgeman's passport, he will begin again. First in London, then at Oxford, the Impressionist hones his chameleon-like skills, making himself whoever and whatever he needs to be to obtain what he desires.

From Victorian India to Edwardian London, from an expatriate community of black Americans in Paris to a hopeless expedition to study a lost tribe of Africa, Hari Kunzru's unforgettable novel dazzles with its artistry and wit while it challenges with its insights into what it means to be Indian or English, black or white, and every degree that lies between them.

Pran Nath

One afternoon, three years after the beginning of the new century, red dust that was once rich mountain soil quivers in the air. It falls on a rider who is making slow progress through the ravines that score the plains south of the mountains, drying his throat, filming his clothes, clogging the pores of his pink perspiring English face.

His name is Ronald Forrester, and dust is his specialty. Or rather, his specialty is fighting dust. In the European club at Simla they never tire of the joke: Forrester the forester. Once or twice he tried to explain it to his Indian subordinates in the Department, but they failed to see the humor. They assumed the name came with the job. Forester Sahib. Like Engineer Sahib, or Mr. Judge.

Forrester Sahib fights the dust with trees. He has spent seven years up in the mountains, riding around eroded hillsides, planting sheltering belts of saplings, educating his peasants about soil conservation, and enforcing ordinances banning ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Fathered, through circuitous circumstances, by an Englishman, Pran Nath Razdan, the boy who will become the Impressionist, was passed off by his Indian mother as the child of her husband, a wealthy man of high caste. Growing up spoiled in a life of luxury just down river from the Taj Mahal, at fifteen the news of Pran's true parentage is revealed to his father and he is tossed out into the street—a pariah and an outcast. Thus begins an extraordinary, near-mythical journey of a young man who must reinvent himself to survive—not once, but many times.

Imprisoned by a brothel and dressed in women's clothes, his sensuous beauty is exploited as he is made to become Rukhsana, a pawn in a game between colony and empire. To a ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Pre-pub buzz about this impressive debut includes a record $1.8-million book deal and predictions of literary renown for its 30-year-old author. ...While the initial chapters are somewhat heavy-handed, and the plot stalls in its overfamiliar satire of the Oxford aesthetes, the African chapters exude a Paul Bowles-like power, and the seamlessly composed, vividly exotic set pieces exhibit an energy and density not usually found in debut fiction.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

Kunzru's novel is so rich that even as Pran desperately avoids examining his life, the reader will be busily pondering this wonderful, multilayered novel.

Library Journal - Michelle Reale

Various and exotic in locale and mesmerizing and engrossing in imaginative detail, this novel is sure to be received as an important addition to any public or academic library. , Elkins Park Free Lib., PA

Kirkus Reviews

...a romantic-satiric saga enlivened by Kunzru's sophisticated prose and urbane omniscient narrative voice. Its only significant flaws are a rather rapid march through some key episodes and some heavy-handed satire on colonialism at its most arrogantly obtuse. Dazzling, nonetheless.

Reader Reviews
Vespuccia

Tone Deaf
I was totally captivated by the dazzling style of Kunzru's prose, and his evocation of India is spot on. But I found the tone of the book problematic in parts. I know it's supposed to be tragi-comic, but there's nothing remotely funny about child ...   Read More

Debra Seetaram (T&T)

I was completely captivated by the plot of "The Impressionist," and thought the author's exploration of an identity crisis was done superbly! Most of us, at one point or another in our lives, undergo a period of intraspection...trying to ...   Read More

Deborah

This book totally captivated me; I can't recall being so excited by a novel in a long, long time (and I am really looking forward to Kunzru's newest book, Transmission, which I understand is totally different). Many readers have complained that ...   Read More

Rupert Moore

The Impressionist is a well written, but eventually disappointing book. Hari Kunzru is so pre-occupied with creating set-pieces that he fails to give adequate attention to the structure of the plot. As a result the novel tends to skim the surface and...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Impressionist, try these:

  • Family Matters jacket

    Family Matters

    by Rohinton Mistry

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Mistry evokes laughter and tears as he spins the great wheel of human life and charts the soul's confusion and the body's decline, the endless cycle of repeated mistakes and failures of heart, and, yes, the radiant revelations of love.

  • The Orientalist jacket

    The Orientalist

    by Tom Reiss

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    'Mixing memory with desire, this marvelous and original book once more reminds us of ways through which the imagination becomes a refuge from the uncontrollable cruelties of reality.'

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  132Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.