The Buddha of Suburbia | Study Guide

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia | Part 1, Chapter 1 : In the Suburbs | Summary



Karim Amir, a self-conscious adolescent, introduces himself as "a funny kind" of Englishman and admits that he is not "proud of it"; the "it" is not about being a "funny kind" but of being English. In the very first paragraph of the novel he covers a lot of ground, probing his racially mixed background—Indian and English—describing his current state of being, and wondering if he is "restless and bored" because of his mixed heritage, his life in the suburbs, or the gloominess of his family.

Karim and his father, Haroon Amir, go out for an evening at Eva Kay's, where his father, a clerk in the Civil Service, has been invited to give a talk on "two aspects of Oriental philosophy," his dedicated avocation. The setting is suburban London in the early 1970s, established by detailed descriptions of the clothing, music, and social habits of the times.

Upon the arrival of father and son, Eva, a floridly dressed and made-up English woman, greets them. To Karim she seems overly familiar with his father. They are welcomed by a set of bohemians and affected pseudo-intellectuals. Karim retreats to the attic room of Eva's son, Charlie Kay. On his way upstairs, Karim, who remembers and explores every stitch of clothing, every element of décor, and practically every word he has ever heard, recalls Eva's surprisingly explicit sexual confessions to him on an earlier occasion. He also takes in the racism of the group's response to Haroon's "brown" presence among them. At one point Karim retreats to the garden, where he discovers his father and Eva making love. He is disturbed and titillated by the scene, which includes his view of Eva's nakedness and the revelation that she has only one breast. Karim and Charlie have a brief sexual dalliance interrupted by the arrival of Eva and Haroon. Eva expresses her delight with the boys' behavior.

At home, Haroon, appalled by his son's homosexual escapade, upbraids Karim. In response Karim warns that he too has witnessed a transgressive sexual liaison between his unfaithful father and Eva. Sympathetic to his mother, Karim makes up a bed for his mother on the living room sofa and confesses that he will never marry. In the days to follow Haroon takes part in family life but refuses to speak to anyone. After a phone call with Eva in which Haroon regains his voice, he invites Karim to accompany him to an "appearance" that Eva has arranged, an opportunity for Haroon to share his philosophy and expand his influence. Haroon embraces his son and, savoring his own liberation, announces that they are "growing up together." Karim overhears his father, a Londoner for over 20 years, putting aside his mindfully acquired British diction and rehearsing an exaggeration of an Indian accent. Karim begins to think of his father as "God" and becomes determined to discover whether his father is a clever fraud or a true holy man.


Bursting with sexual energy and a world seen and judged through adolescent hypersexuality, Karim is absorbed with physical descriptions and contemporary clothing fashion. He watches with fascination his father's yoga exercise, intensely interested in his father's body. Karim is 17 and obsessed with appearance. It takes him an hour to dress, including three changes of clothes before he is ready to go out for the evening. His descriptions of everything and everyone are heightened and sexualized. His sexual encounter with Charlie raises no questions for him. He is happily bisexual. Everyone he observes, including his father, operates out of a highly charged sexuality. He hears his father's hearty laugh after sex and wonders about his own conception.

Hypervigilant, Karim is sensitive to Eva's guest's question about the presence of a "brown" man among the guests. Amir's desire is to live in a highly charged state as though it were ordinary life—the contrast is between his stifling home life and a partying world of alcohol, drugs, and interesting people. His vanity and quest for excitement seem to leave him blind to life's difficulties.

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