Summary and book reviews of The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

The Impressionist

by Hari Kunzru

The Impressionist
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2002, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 416 pages

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Book Summary

From Victorian India to Edwardian London this unforgettable novel dazzles with its artistry and wit while it challenges what it means to be Indian or English, black or white, and every degree that lies between them.

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 ...
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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

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

Anonymous

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

Amit K

I picked up Hari Kunzru's debut novel purely out of curiosity: Why should a writer get paid such a preposterous advance to write his first novel? And once I started, I continued in pure thrall of the style, the layers and the dizzying plot. I haven't...   Read More

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