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.
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
...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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
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
Rated of 5
by 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... Read More
Rated of 5
I was not a fan of this book, the ending was weak and it left a lot of unanswered questions. It was an interesting and timely subject; however, I felt the author did not thoroughly investigate many points. The author had a unique opportunity to... Read More
Rated of 5
an excellent source of education of various cultures and countries...truly mesmerizing and captivating.....ONe of the best book ive read in my 15 yrs 'lifetime.I learned more about life and inner wisdom through the experience of pran. It has helped... Read More
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.
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