The Buddha of Suburbia | Study Guide

Hanif Kureishi

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Course Hero. "The Buddha of Suburbia Study Guide." April 12, 2019. Accessed August 3, 2020.


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The Buddha of Suburbia | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1: In the Suburbs

Karim Amir's formative experiences, ages 17 to 20, are explored in his relationships to various suburban neighborhoods south of London and the family and friends who live there. In Karim's view these neighborhoods cut off by the Thames from London proper are also, more to the point, cut off from the potential anonymity and cosmopolitan bustle of the big city. Karim and his father Haroon Amir attend an event in Beckenham, a slightly more upscale version of the dull South London suburb, Bromley, where Karim was raised. Margaret Amir, Karim's mother, chooses to stay at home even though Haroon is the featured speaker. Haroon, although he has been in London for 20 years, cannot find his way to Beckenham without Karim's assistance. Karim's world begins to transform as he witnesses Haroon's adulterous relationship with Eva Kay, the party's host. Karim follows suit, falling in love with Eva's son, Charlie Kay, and enjoying a sexual dalliance with the handsome youth. Eva is delighted; Haroon is appalled.

Relationships among family members and close family friends dominate the novel's first part. Karim's first female sex partner is Jamila, the daughter of Anwar, Haroon's best friend since their childhood in India. Jamila and Karim's teenage intimacy extends to a deep friendship in which Karim learns about feminism and true compassion. Karim also experiences the snobbism and racism of the suburbs along with a growing recognition of the relationship between white privilege and racism in his friendship with Helen and his encounters with her father. Helen's easy self-confidence is matched by her father's unfiltered racism. Karim's Auntie Jean and Uncle Ted, both white and British, are studies in ambivalence. Their racism and their love for their mixed-race nephew are on unselfconscious display in equal measure.

Karim's ambition to leave the suburbs is initially realized when Haroon leaves Bromley and his family to live with Eva, a woman engaged in the arts and bent on moving up in the world. Eva is both Haroon's lover and his agent, arranging for his guru-like appearances aimed at the enlightenment of bohemian Londoners. Karim lives with Eva and Haroon and spends time equally with Jamila, who has acceded to a marriage her coercive father, Anwar, has arranged in good Muslim fashion. Changez, imported from India and as alien to hard work as Haroon and Anwar had been when they arrived in London as college student immigrants from India, becomes a good friend of Karim and a loyal husband to Jamila even as she refuses to sleep with him. Changez, ever practical, yearns for Jamila and forms a relationship with Shinko, a Japanese woman who is a prostitute.

Part 1 ends with Eva selling a home she has renovated in Beckenham—a suburb a bit more middle class than Bromley—and preparing to move with Haroon to South London. Eva has found a large flat in South London that is crying out for the same sort of gentrification she had accomplished in Beckenham with the help of Karim and Uncle Ted, who is a master carpenter. Ted's role in helping Eva and Haroon establish themselves is anathema to Aunt Jean.

Part 2: In the City

In Part 2 Karim's progress is marked by what he learns from the individuals in his life. There are new developments in the lives of immediate and extended family, new friendships and work relationships. Karim's coming up in the world is tracked as he moves from the southern suburbs to South London, then across the Atlantic, and ultimately back to London. Karim's consciousness is stretched by his encounters with white, working-class and upper-middle-class London, just as his naivete is tested. He learns about political activism in the socialist sympathies and work of his friend, Terry. He learns of feminist militancy from Jamila and socialism in her communal lifestyle. He attains a measure of success as an actor in London.

In New York he learns about himself as the disappointed lover of a beautiful actress. He explores New York with Charlie Hero—the reinvented Charlie Kay, his close friend who has become a punk rock star. He finally returns to London, the city he loves, and is surrounded by the people he loves: his close, long-term friends and extended family. In the end it is not clear that Karim has come to terms with the ambivalence of his racial identity, but crucially, he understands it. He has experienced racism in its virulent and subtle forms. His notion that opens the novel—the idea that he is considered an "Englishman of a funny kind"—has been clarified. The ambivalence of a person of hybrid background has been modified; his biracial identity, including the world's nondiscriminatory resistance to all people of color, has become the steady ground for his further development. Moreover, he has learned the meaning of love in its many manifestations.

The Buddha of Suburbia Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Karim Amir witnesses his father's adultery.

Rising Action

2 Karim meets Charlie Kay.

3 Karim appreciates Jamila's compromise.

4 Karim moves to London with Eva Kay and Haroon Amir.


5 Karim enjoys success as an actor in London.

Falling Action

6 Karim goes to New York with the show.


7 Karim returns to London.

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