Kureishi’s first two novels, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) and The Black Album (1995) are undoubtedly his best known. They also have a great deal in common: in both, a young protagonist of Asian descent undergoes various picaresque adventures as a way of exploring his relationship to issues of race and class, the two major social forces that in Kureishi’s view shape identity in contemporary Britain. As Susie Thomas has argued, ‘In all Kureishi’s work there is an emphasis on how race can affect class and vice versa’ (Thomas 74), and nowhere is this more obvious than in Kureishi’s first two books. Nevertheless, the social milieus of the two novels are quite different; Buddha focuses on the middle class (both upper and lower) and on the culture industry, whereas Album centres on more marginal groups: radical university professors, Muslim students, former prostitutes, and drug dealers. Yet both novels come to the same conclusion: there is no possibility of establishing any meaningful class-based or racial solidarity that can protect one from the commodification, exploitation, inequality and inauthenticity of contemporary British life. The best Kureishi’s young British-Asian heroes can do is accept their lot in a world driven by hypocrisy, selfishness, racism and class confusion, and, by immersing themselves in the pleasures of consumption, salvage what personal enjoyment they can. Fortunately for them, they manage to enjoy themselves a good deal, even amid the ruins of their former naïve idealism.
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