The Smooth Surface

From the discreet burgundy shade of his silk tie to his delicate suede shoes to his beautiful white skin, Jonathan Bridgeman is the ideal Englishman. True, his background is a bit murky—they say he was raised in colonial India—but he affords the proper impression, and in a well-manicured world where impressions are all that matter, he fits in seamlessly. But Jonathan Bridgeman isn't English. He isn't Indian. He isn't anything at all.

Identity—precious, elusive, fakable—is at the heart of Hari Kunzru's engaging debut novel The Impressionist (Penguin; 481 pages), which explores what it is to be Indian, English...

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