Hari Kunzru

"My Revolutions"

(reviewed by Poornima Apte JAN 25, 2008)

At first glance, Michael Frame seems like any vanilla guy in suburbia on the cusp of his fiftieth birthday—a guy who works in a bookstore, is married to a successful businesswoman, and is step dad to a college-going daughter. Except he is not.

He once was Chris Carver—a radical in the '60's who stopped just short of international terrorism and committed quite a few acts of violence in the hope of creating an Utopian society. All that wouldn't have mattered of course if it weren't for the fact that Mike Frame's cover is about to be blown. An old friend has shown up and is threatening to spill all to serve his own selfish ends.

What follows is a tense narrative written by novelist Hari Kunzru in his latest novel, My Revolutions. Kunzru, who is a British author of mixed South Asian origin, has visited the subcontinent in his previous two novels—The Impressionist and Transmission. On the other hand, My Revolutions is set in England and moves back and forth between the England of the '60s that Chris Carver inhabited to the more recent one set in the years immediately preceding Sept. 11. 

In chapters that seamlessly contrast Chris Carver's life against the newer one lead by Michael Frame, Kunzru explains the transformation from the one to the other. The young Chris Carver grew up completely alienated from his family desperately looking for a way out. “My family were proud members of what is still termed, with the disgusting precision of English snobbery, the lower middle class,” Carver reminisces. Even before he finds his ticket out—admission to the London School of Economics, Carver has found role models in a bunch of local hippies who introduce him to a new, more organic way of life.

Once in London, Carver gets inadvertently drawn into a variety of demonstrations and sit-ins staged by an attractive leader Anna Addison and her lover, Sean Ward. As Chris gets involved in one protest after the other, one begins to notice his life slowly spiraling out of control. “I think their politics were entirely fluid, their professed radicalism a product of the time and place, rather than any deep dissatisfaction with the order of things,” Chris remarks about two members in his group. The same could probably be said of Chris too as he finds himself falling into in all kinds of radical activities.

Kunzru who himself was born only after the fervor of the 60s died down, has done a lot of research for My Revolutions and it shows. Many of the activities that Chris takes part in, read suspiciously like the ones perpetrated by Britain's notorious communist radical group, The Angry Brigade (even if Kunzru clarifies that there are no intentional similarities). The problem with doing intensive research is that many authors feel compelled to jam all the results into the resulting narrative and Kunzru too falls into that trap. As you read about one sit-in and another protest, and yet another angry meeting, the purposes and organizations and common goals of each all start to melt into one another. At this point Chris is merely cataloging events as opposed to providing any real justification for the whys.

Anna and Sean's radicalism starts taking increasingly violent tones and their targets become people instead of places; that's when Chris decides he needs to turn around. “What will tomorrow look like?” Chris Carver would ask his revolutionary buddies, over and over again, requesting them to paint their vision of the society they were striving for. How disappointing that the one that these revolutionaries dreamed never quite came to fruition. Of course that's the point that Kunzru is trying to make: that idealism cannot really force society to conform with any pre-imagined Utopia.

Kunzru is best when he is penning satire and his description of current-day Mike Frame and his life with wife Miranda Martin, a  businesswoman who is eternally conflicted between her liberal values and the consumerism she must espouse, is simply brilliant. “Thatcher's gone, the Berlin Wall's down, and unless you are in Bosnia, the most pressing issue of the nineties appears to be interior design. It's supposed to be the triumph of capitalism—the end of history and the glorious beginning of the age of shopping,” Kunzru writes,as he describes the '90s.

In My Revolutions, Kunzru deftly shows how activism is merely a few steps away from extreme radicalism. Ultimately, even terrorism is justified to those who are blindly committed to the cause and who can justify any means for an end they desperately want to see happen. Chris Carver's involvement in the radicalism of his time rings totally believable and true.

When Chris Carver decides to leave his old life behind, he picks out a name from an epitaph in a graveyard: “Michael Frame,” it reads, “Resting Where No Shadows Fall.” Quite an irony. For Kunzru expertly shows us how long a shadow Carver's life actually exerts—even getting to the point of dangerously eclipsing the boring, staid life “Michael Frame” is so hungry to lead.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews

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About the Author:

Hari KunzruHari Kunzru was born in 1969 and grew up in Essex, England. He earned a B.A. in English Literature at Oxford University. He went to London in 1991, but had trouble finding work. He then earned his M.A. in Philosophy at Warwick University where he met the editor of Wired magazine, which started his career in journalism. As a journalist he has published in the Guardian, Wired, ID, The Economist and the London Review of Books. He is music editor at Wallpaper magazine and a contributing editor at Mute magazine. In 1999 he was named Observer Young Travel Writer of the Year and in 2003, Granta named him as one of the "20 Best Fiction Writers Under 40."

Kunzru lives in London, England.

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