Traveler Reads: The Body by Hanif Kureishi

“I’d been alive a long time but my life, like most lives, seemed to have happened too quickly, when I was not ready.”

I was introduced to the work of Hanif Kureishi when I studied in London–a course on colonial literature included his first novel, Buddha of Suburbia, which I found thoroughly entertaining. It’s been 15 years since I read it, so I don’t remember everything about it, but it was interesting enough for me to pick up another book by Kureishi when I came across it.

The Body is a novella accompanied by seven other short stories that delve into similar themes about the self and self-perception. The novella sets out with the premise that a successful writer named Adam with failing health is approached with an opportunity to extend his life indefinitely. Adam decides to take the opportunity as a short-term experiment–a holiday from his own self in a way.The Body by Hanif Kureishi

The attraction to the experience of another life within the life he lives is similar to what we do as travelers. Many solo travelers will admit that they’re different when traveling–many are more introverted when at home. This is the experience Adam has as he travels outside London in his new self. He learns about himself and others, the things he missed out on in younger years and the pop culture he no longer understands. He finds that he has to relearn life while retaining the knowledge and experience of his age.

The other stories also focus on the idea of the self and how we see ourselves and others. “Face to Face with You” in particular shows the insecurity we feel when we encounter something or someone too similar to ourselves. It’s how we react when face the small details that we can’t recognize until they’re point out. A couple that lives a fairly routine life finds that their new neighbors are almost exactly the same as they are–names included. It’s an attempt to ignore or avoid the parts about ourselves that make us uncomfortable or question our abilities.

Through all of the stories, Kureishi maintains a wit to keep the philosophical undertones humorous–it’s existentialism mixed with overt comedy through descriptions and metaphors. As his narrator in The Body says, “consciousness was the thing I liked most about life. But who doesn’t need a rest from it now and again?”

The Body and other stories are a quick read while traveling–the perfect book to read on a long flight.

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