Read: Hari Kunzru, My Revolutions

Hari Kunzru My Revolutions
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A few years ago, I read Kunzru’s Transmission and loved it. I thought it was switched on to what the world was becoming and elegantly highlighted how people from developing countries are traversing the boundaries of distance and economics by plugging into the ‘new’ economy. Then, I tried to read The Impressionist and failed to finish it. It had the long-windedness of a Midnight’s Children without keeping me riveted in the same way. Maybe I’ll go back to it another time; maybe I won’t.

My Revolutions offers a lot – a good yarn, a close look at two trendy topics (late 60s politics and their contemporary ramifications; terrorism), masterfully told by a great writer. The language, the pace, the textures and emotions it conveys – all are well-judged and propel things forward at a good clip. I spent maybe a week reading it, weekday evenings and a weekend.

Chris Carver, from a lower middle class London family, becomes politically sensitized in the mid 1960s, does well in school, goes to the London School of Economics, and gradually becomes more and more radicalized. He falls in with a group of friends who set increasingly higher standards of political consciousness until it becomes inevitable that they no longer rule out violence. Their political actions turn darker, more paranoid and more hegemonic – initially, they fight the police at protest marches, then they squat in some buildings (on the homeless’ and their own behalf), then they rob a grocery store and redistribute the food; and finally, they start to bomb buildings. They’re modeled on Britain’s Angry Brigade, who, it seems, always got less prime time exposure than the Baader Meinhofs, and who were overshadowed in their own country by the Northern Ireland conflict and the increasingly militant IRA.

Woven into this tale of activism (incidentally, Kunzru somehow does an excellent job of representing the political jargon, and, as the text progresses, the jargon becomes denser and less pleasurable to read in a very productive parallel to Chris Carver’s own discomfort about his group’s militant activities) is a love story, between Chris and Anna, who is much more radical and invested in freeing herself and the population from capitalism’s shackles than he is. Anna is a leader.

A second love story is woven into the book’s second time plane, set in the late 1990s. Chris Carver, now called Michael Frame, lives a quiet life somewhere in small town England, having gone underground, spent years traveling, doing drugs and getting clean in Asia, and re-built his life under another identity. Mike lives with Miranda, a cosmetics entrepreneur, and her university-student daughter, neither of whom have any idea of Mike’s real identity.

Things begin to unravel and the plot propels forward when Chris/Mike thinks he sees Anna (who he believes is dead) on vacation in France. Shortly after the vacation, an old acquaintance from his political days reappears in his life, possibly by accident. And so it starts.

I would certainly recommend this novel as a solid, crafty and entertaining read. It deals with none of Kunzru’s ‘typical’ themes and that makes it an interesting departure for him, one that I liked very much.

The Guardian points out, in its review, that there’s another recent novel, by Dana Spiotta, that deals with similar situations and themes. That’s next on my reading list. Other reviews of Kunzru at The Independent and Jabberwock.

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