Last Monday night it was my turn to host supper for my book club buddies and the book under discussion was The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru.
I was a bit shamefaced because I hadn't quite got to the end (had to read other stuff for review and am not the fastest anyway, especially when I'm enjoying the writing). By unanimous verdict the book was declared excellent.
Now that doesn't happen all that often ... the last time this happened was with Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance and the time before that with Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible.
The Impressionist is about a half-cast boy, conceived during a flash flood when his forester father is rescued by a young woman on her way across the desert to her arranged marriage. (Not very a likely occurrence? Far crazier things happen in this book, be warned.)
Pran is brought up in luxury and revered for his fair skin, but when his true parentage is revealed, he is cast out onto the streets to fend for himself. A born-survivor, the boy takes on different identities and reinventing himself at every turn. He makes an epic journey through the turbulent Indian subcontinent, and later to England and West Africa.
The Impressionist is a hilarious romp of a book, wonderfully farcical. It's richly imagined, and replete with historical detail. The characters are delightfully eccentric - the British coming off particularly badly (as they surely deserve to).
It's a novel about empire, but also about identity. And it sparked off good discussion about racial identity and "fitting in" in the Malaysian context.
Yes, this one comes very highly recommended.