An idealistic commitment to political and social change resonates throughout three decades in the Anglo-Indian author’s vivid third novel.
Kunzru’s latest traces the two lives of one man: Now a middle-aged house husband going by the name “Michael Frame,” the protagonist was once Chris Carver, a university student turned bomb-throwing revolutionary. The story begins in 1998 when “Michael,” living comfortably with his partner Miranda (who has prospered with a line of “natural” women’s beauty products) and her teenaged daughter, panics and flees following a vacation to France during which he sees, or thinks he sees, a former comrade, Anna. The problem: Michael has good reason to believe that the fiery Anna was shot to death in a botched terrorist plot in 1975. Further complications arise when Michael encounters another fellow protester from the ’60s, Miles Bridgeman—and is pressured to assist the ever-opportunistic Miles in a scheme for hire to discredit an up-and-coming Labour politician with a hidden history of radical activism. Michael’s journey subsequently becomes a double narrative in which efforts to elude the consequences of a long-abandoned life are deftly counterpointed with a chronicle of his lower-middle-class beginnings, education and political enlightenment at the London School of Economics, and initially enthusiastic, eventually sobered participation in protest activities that turned violent after President Nixon sent troops into Cambodia in 1975. Kunzru (Transmission, 2004, etc.) recreates the passionate energies of the ’70s quite convincingly, channeling the history of a British radical group called Angry Brigade and dramatizing the fluctuations of Chris’s unrealized hopes in blistering conversational exchanges (including a particularly memorable one during an explosive “Criticism-Self-Criticism” session among self-proclaimed revolutionaries).
A considerably more ambitious and searching work than its predecessors.