The Buddha of Suburbia’s main protagonist is a bisexual British Asian youth called Karim Amir, who describes himself in the opening lines as ‘an Englishman born and bred, almost, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories’. The location is largely multicultural London in the 1970s, though some chapters are set in New York. The novel falls into the literary tradition of the bildungsroman in that it explores the personal development of its protagonist, in this case in relation to issues of ethnic, cultural and sexual identity.
The Buddha of Suburbia won the Whitbread First Novel Award, and in 1993 the BBC commissioned its adaptation as a television series.
The novel’s original title, ‘Streets of The Heart’, can be found written in pencil on the cover page of this manuscript. At the bottom of the page Kureishi has noted, ‘27.XII.87’ (although his diaries reveal that he had been gathering material and ideas for the work since he was a teenager). This is also the date on the first draft.
Kureishi used the title ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ in February 1987 for a short story that was published in the London Review of Books and resembles the novel’s first chapter.
Revisions in the second draft
Shown here is Chapter One, in which Karim and his father, Haroon, attend one of Eva Kay’s ‘spiritual’ parties, where Karim witnesses his father’s affair, smokes a joint for the first time, listens to Pink Floyd, and sexually experiments with his school-friend, Charlie, who he is in a kind-of-love with.
The draft is largely typewritten, with Kureishi’s handwritten revisions and additions made in pen and pencil. The opening page, in particular, is heavily revised. Kureishi has deleted a large first paragraph where Karim articulates a sense of the thrilling possibility surrounding him as a teenager in the 1970s: ‘It was the most exciting time there could have been, perhaps because everything was in flux. Movement and change and the new were in everything.’
- Full title:
- Hanif Kureishi Papers: The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, second draft: 1987-1988
- Manuscript / Typescript / Draft
- Hanif Kureishi
- Usage terms
© Hanif Kureishi. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 89091/6/3
- Article by:
- Zadie Smith
- Capturing and creating the modern, Exploring identity, Literature 1950–2000, Art, music and popular culture
When Zadie Smith encountered The Buddha of Suburbia as a teenager, she found in its description of multiracial South London suburbs an image of her own experience. Here she remembers her first reading of the novel and describes how, on rereading it as an adult, she continues to appreciate Hanif Kureishi's sense of mischief and his depictions of race and class.
- Article by:
- Rachel Foss
- Literature 1950–2000, Capturing and creating the modern, Exploring identity
Rachel Foss sees The Buddha of Suburbia as a coming-of-age novel with a distinctly late 20th-century spin. In this close reading of Kureishi’s work, she shows how he identifies new ways of being British, through his characters’ explorations of ethnic identity, class and sexuality in 1970s multicultural Britain.
- Article by:
- Sukhdev Sandhu
- Art, music and popular culture
Sukhdev Sandhu explores the way in which, since the 1930s, writers such as J G Ballard and Hanif Kureishi have portrayed the suburbs as bland, consumerist and conservative.