Novelist Kureishi Has 'Something To Tell You'
JACKI LYDEN, host:
It's All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Hanif Kureishi is one of England's best known novelists and screenwriters. He's of both Pakistani and English heritage. Two decades ago, he came to attention with "My Beautiful Laundrette," a film in which an English skinhead falls in love with a young Pakistani man.
Race and sex and cultural divides in London have always been Kureishi territory, and they still are. But in his latest novel, "Something to Tell You," the characters are older, their sexual foibles darker, and the narrator is a psychologist named Jamal Khan, who has a lot of guilt. Here's how Hanif Kureishi introduces him.
Mr. HANIF KUREISHI (Author, "Something to Tell You"): (Reading) I am a psychoanalyst. Secrets are my currency. I deal in secrets for a living. Secrets of desire of what people really want and what they fear the most, the secrets of why love is difficult, sex complicated, living painful, and death close and yet placed far away. Why are pleasure and punishment so closely related. How do our bodies speak? Why do we make ourselves ill? Why do you want to fail? And why, finally, is pleasure so hard to bear?
LYDEN: Jamal's sister, Miriam, is the book's most riveting character. She lives in a bad neighborhood. She has numerous children by different fathers, and she's an anarchist in the British tradition. Kureishi describes her as a curtain rail.
Mr. KUREISHI: I call her curtain rail because she' s a woman who's very fond of getting tattooed, you know, more murals than the Louvre. And she's also pierced, too, which is why she resembles a curtain rail, and why the only cosmetic advice that could be applicable to her is for her to keep away from magnets.
LYDEN: You specialize in improbable relationships, and Miriam has one with Jamal's best friend, the theater director, Henry. Henry and Miriam make tours of sex clubs. I'm wondering what you're trying to say with their relationship in contrast to Jamal's inability to connect.
Mr. KUREISHI: Well, one of the things that's always fascinated me since I turned, unfortunately, turned 50, you know, a dark, hard day that was a few years ago.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KUREISHI: What fascinated me was the fact that I've lived through this revolution, I guess, called the sexual revolution. So, you know, having lived through this revolution, I'm interested in examining it. I'm wondering whether what it was what we wanted in the 60s. It has actually come to pass today, and whether we are any happier for it, and in which way life is much more difficult than it might have been before.
LYDEN: Jamal doesn't seem happier for it.
Mr. KUREISHI: Well, he's a middle-aged man. Who in their middle age is entirely happy? I mean, life gets much more difficult, much more complicated. And happiness is always as if it was snatched from death after a certain age.
LYDEN: Sometime back, you wrote a wonderful story called "The Mother," which you said was taken from a comment that your own mother made over dinner at a restaurant with you. She was about 70, and she looked at a waiter, and she said no one will ever touch me again. And one of your characters, I believe, Miriam, says it here, and she fears that. You think that's a fear a lot of us have as we grow older?
Mr. KUREISHI: You know, one of the things that happened in the '60s was the idea that sex and pleasure and kissing and all that stuff was something only for the young. And now, that generation is aging. I think they're thinking, we're all thinking very hard about what it is human beings over the age of 50, 60, 70 might continue to need.
This is really the first time when we're beginning to think of older people, you know, in that kind of way. I mean, in the old days, you were old when you were 50, and you retired when you are 60, and that was that. Because people live longer, we're bound to think about the needs of older people, and that interests me very much.
LYDEN: You bring together a lot of the passions of life, sex, striving, but people do have to pay the bill in a lot of ways here, and maybe that's like a splash of cold water. I'm not saying it extinguishes the fire. But it tampers it.
Mr. KUREISHI: I'm fascinated by guilt, and the guilt that we all feel, not only for acts done, not only for acts not done, but also for our fantasized acts. And what makes us moral people and what perhaps often makes us love other people and more often makes us do good things is guilt. So guilt is very powerful signifier, very important. And it can also make us hate and punish, not only ourselves, but other people, too. So an examination of guilt would be right at the center of what it is to be human.
LYDEN: And certainly, it's right at the center of Jamal's experience here in "Something to Tell You." We are talking around the anniversary of 9/11. We are in the middle of an election here. The chapters in the book seem to think that with the end of the reign of what you call Bush-Blair here - there's some Tony Blair jokes - that the world might change for the better. I'm wondering what you think now. You're visiting the United States.
Mr. KUREISHI: I have to say that having been in America, I have been here for less than a week, that it's fascinating and absolutely riveting for someone like me to come and see what a struggle there is going on, really, for the soul of the United States. After all, the United States that I loved in the post-war period was really the United States of Jimi Hendrix and of Dylan and of Kerouac and of Ginsberg and so on.
On the other hand, there is a very small town kind of narrow-minded, religious, gun-toting America, too. And to come here and to see what a conflict there is now represented, I guess, between Obama and Sarah Palin and how heavy and serious it is is really fascinating for us outsiders to see.
LYDEN: Hanif Kureishi is the author of "Something to Tell You," his latest novel. Thanks so much for joining us again.
Mr. KUREISHI: Thank you, anytime.
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