Fathered 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. At fifteen the news of Pran's true parentage is revealed to his father and he is tossed out into the street. Thus begins an extraordinary journey of a young man who must often reinvent himself to survive.
Imprisoned in a brothel and dressed in women's clothes, his sensuous beauty is exploited as he is made to become Rukhsana. 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 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.
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The antihero of The Impressionist, Hari Kunzru's daringly ambitious first novel, is half English and half Indian. In the Raj of the 1920s, the racial and social divides are enormous, but Pran Nath is able to bridge them, crossing from one side to another in a series of reinventions of his own personality. He begins as the spoiled child of an Indian lawyer, but circumstances thrust him out of his pampered adolescence into the teeming and dangerous life of the streets. After a bewildering period as one of the pawns in Machiavellian political and sexual scheming in the decadent court of a minor Maharajah, he escapes to Bombay. There he is taken up by a half-demented Scottish missionary and his wife, but Pran Nath prefers to slope off to the city's red-light district whenever he can. During a time of riot and bloodshed, the chance of re-creating himself as an English schoolboy destined for public school and Oxford presents itself, and he takes it. But this is not his final transformation.
In certain ways Kunzru is almost too ambitious. There is so much crammed onto the pages of The Impressionist that some of it, almost inevitably, doesn't work as well as it might. However, as the shapeshifting Pran Nath moves from one identity to another, knockabout farce mixes with satire, social comedy with parody. And beneath the comic exuberance and linguistic invention, there is an intelligent and occasionally moving examination of notions of self, identity, and what it means to belong to a class or society. --Nick Rennison, Amazon.co.ukAbout the Author:
Born in London and raised in Essex, Hari Kunzru is a freelance journalist and editor. He has written for a variety of English and international publications, including The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, The Economist, and Wired and was named "Young Travel Writer of the Year" by the Observer in 1999. This is his first novel.
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