The Buddha of Suburbia Summary and Study Guide

Hanif Kureishi

The Buddha of Suburbia

  • 42-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 18 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an experienced high school teacher with a PhD in English Literature
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The Buddha of Suburbia Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 42-page guide for “The Buddha of Suburbia” by Hanif Kureishi includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 18 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Race and Class.

Plot Summary

The Buddha of Suburbia, by Hanif Kureishi, is a coming-of-age novel that explores significant themes of identity, class, and race in 1970s London. Karim Amir, the protagonist and narrator, tells the story of his maturation against a backdrop of political and social change, as he attempts to create himself, discover his place in life, and grow up. Told in the first person, Karim narrates his life from age 17 to about age 23.

The Buddha of Suburbia is a pastiche: a deliberate homage to British eighteenth-century initiation novels such as Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1747) and Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy (1759-1767), where the reader follows a charismatic narrator through his initiation into adult life. These early British novels, like The Buddha of Suburbia, are characterized by their satirical humor, social commentary, and sexual adventure. This use of pastiche highlights Kureishi’s attempt to tie his modern themes of class and race to the tradition of the British novel and its role in depicting and exposing society’s hypocrisies.

Born to an Indian father and an English mother, Karim’s identity as an Englishman lies at the center of this story. Aware of his life’s inherent ironies, Karim explores his dual racial identities—one of traditional, white, English middle-class views and the other of his Indian heritage. As a mixed-race teenager, the central angst of his life lies in confronting the entrenched English racism that labels him a lesser being, a “wog” or “nigger.” That conflict between his cultural identities forms a central theme of the novel.

Alienated at school and frustrated by boredom and sadness at home, Karim dreams of escaping the South London suburbs for a more exciting and fulfilling life. Karim’s youthful angst is complicated by his sexuality: he likes both girls and boys. He has sex with his best friend Jamila but is infatuated with a boy named Charlie Kay. His parents are in a miserable marriage.

As an outlet for his own disappointments, Karim’s father, Haroon, studies Eastern philosophy. Eva Kay, a friend Haroon meets through a writing class, arranges for Haroon to speak to groups about Eastern philosophy. His talks are successful, and he becomes the Buddha of suburbia. He also conducts a love affair with Eva, eventually leaving his wife. Karim’s family falls apart, and Karim drops out of school without completing his A-level exams.

Eva has big ambitions and wants to escape the suburbs too; she takes Haroon, her son Charlie, and Karim, now 20 years old, to London. Eva enters the world of art and theater. Haroon continues to offer meditation classes and to advise people who seek his help.

Karim, through Eva’s connections, gets a part acting in a play. Karim is a success in his role as Mowgli in The Jungle Book and catches the eye of a director who offers him a part in his new production. He falls in love with Eleanor, a fellow actor. Karim creates an Indian character for his play, and it too is a success. He goes to New York with the play and reconnects with Charlie.

Charlie has remade himself into the legendary punk rocker Charlie Hero, front man for the band Condemned. A huge celebrity, Charlie has difficulty coping with fame and offers Karim a place to stay. Charlie wants a companion, and Karim has fallen into a depression after the end of his relationship with Eleanor. He simply does not know what he wants to do with his life, despite his professional success.

Charlie’s cruelty and self-centeredness eventually alienate Karim, so he decides to go home. He has been gone for 10 months and misses his parents and Eva. Karim auditions for a soap opera and gets the part. He reconnects with his family. On the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s election as prime minister in May 1979, Karim celebrates his new job by taking his family out to a celebratory dinner. Haroon and Eva announce their engagement. Surrounded by the people he loves, Karim has high hopes for the future.

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Chapters 1–4