By Bill Kohlhaase
Living underground to avoid arrest suggests two stories: the crimes that force one to disappear and the circumstances that pull one back into the light. Kunzru’s novel of an English political radical in the 1960s runs these tales in parallel. Young Chris Carver is drawn into protests against the war in Vietnam and pursues a spiraling set of violent activities from there. Years later, as Michael Frame, he lives a quiet suburban life with wife and stepdaughter. Unexpectedly, he’s confronted by his past. How Carver goes from championing peace to advocating overthrow of the government is a fascinating tale of radicalization. How Frame is blackmailed into acknowledging his past makes a damning statement on today’s demeaning politics. Along the way, Kunzru explores the psychology behind ideology and the clash between identity and reality. Old guard readers will recognize the crash pads, the tactical debates and the knee-jerk dismissal of everything as bourgeoisie. Straights, the apolitical and those not old enough to throw bricks in the ’60s will find plenty of sex, drugs and conflict to keep them engaged. In the end, Frame/Carver’s dilemma is between personal and political commitment. Say you want a revolution? Read this first.
Dutton, hardback, 280 pages, $25.95