Nation and Novel: The English Novel from Its Origins to the Present Day

By Patrick Parrinder | Go to book overview

15
Inward Migrations: Multiculturalism,
Anglicization, and Internal Exile

KARIM AMIR, the narrator of Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), introduces himself as 'an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories. But I don't care—Englishman I am (though not proud of it), from the South London suburbs and going somewhere.'1 As critics have noted, the much-quoted opening passage of Kureishi's novel has the quality of a mission statement for a new world in which cultures and traditions are intermingled and hybrid fusion is the norm.2 Nevertheless Karim, born in London of an Indian father and an English mother, is an Englishman by any standards except those of the racial extremist. His Englishness, as he acknowledges, is a given identity, not a matter of choice. Writing for an American readership in 1964, the novelist John Fowles set out to distinguish English from British identity, describing the latter as 'an organizational convenience, a political advisability, a passport word'. His definition of Englishness, though conservative and racially exclusive in its orientation, clearly includes Karim: 'It is having at least two grandparents out of four English; having lived at least half one's life in England; having been educated at an English school; and of course having English as a mother tongue.'3 Fowles's stipulation of two grandparents out of four introduces a racial element while allowing for the possibility of mixed parenthood which must be part of any healthy and dynamic community. What are we to make, however, of first-generation immigrants for whom England must necessarily be a country of adoption? According to Fowles, only their children or grandchildren may become English. Is the 'organizational convenience' of Britishness the most to which they can aspire, or do people become English by self-identification? The novel of immigration—now recognized as the most vital form of English fiction at the beginning of the twenty-first century—considers these questions.

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