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My Revolutions

by Hari Kunzru

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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My Revolutions

© Dutton

Dutton, January 2008

Hari Kunzru's My Revolutions is a thrilling novel with a plot that readers will find more than relevant in today's political climate. Idealism, anger, and social ambition fuel the fictional Michael Frame's involvement with a group of radical activists who protest the Vietnam War in 1960s London. The main character's turn to terrorism runs a recognizable course and offers striking insight into the modern tensions between individual and family, nation and state.

Hari Kunzru has been named one of Granta's "Twenty Best Fiction Writers Under Forty," and he is the author of two other acclaimed novels, The Impressionist and Transmission. Kunzru's novels differ greatly in subject matter, but the thought-provoking quality of his previous work is also evident here.

From the outset of the story, readers will find themselves scrambling to solve an identity crisis that is as political as it is personal. On page one, we meet Michael Frame. And then we promptly realize that Michael Frame is really a man named Chris Carver. This book's main character is living a lie, or at least a truth that is "partial, incomplete," in order to cover up the crimes that he committed as a radical youth.
Michael Frame, however, seems like an innocuous enough character. He's nearing his fiftieth birthday and has lived for the past sixteen years in a country cottage with a woman named Miranda and her daughter Sam. Miranda is the ambitious owner of Bountessence Natural Beautycare, a company that Frame sees as the highest expression of his common-law wife's romance with nature. Frame tries to hide his revulsion with the little recyclable product containers he finds in their home, but he can no longer hide from the ghosts in his past.

His revolutionary background is decades behind him, and his placid lifestyle would seem to belie its existence. But as the young Chris Carver, he was a member of various activist groups, one that focused its efforts on stealing food from grocery stories and then giving it away for free, and others that blew up buildings and conspired with foreign terrorist organizations.

The justification for Chris Carver to participate in such activity was always simple. In the case of the food stealing and redistribution ploy, he reasoned: "Principle number one: if we wanted to call ourselves revolutionaries, we had to be prepared to break the law." And: "Principle number two: it was our food already." Stealing was justifiable to Chris Carver because society's power structure had been perverted, and his was a mission to set things right.
Readers will ultimately wonder - as does this book's main character - whether or not Chris Carver's actions are justified in the end. He is beaten by cops during protests and thrown into prison. He spends time recovering in a Buddhist monastery, only to resurface in England with a new name taken from a tombstone. And even then, he can't keep his secrets from catching up with him.

When Miranda and Michael take a well-needed vacation to France, Frame thinks he sees Anna Addison, one of his former lovers who had supposedly died in a bombing decades earlier. Shortly after sighting this woman, another man from Frame's past shows up and attempts to blackmail him. Michael Frame is finally confronted with the decision to continue running or to turn around and face his past.

By telling his hero's story through a series of flashbacks, Hari Kunzru delights his readers and keeps the plot fresh until its resolution is revealed on the book's final page. The author's personal research, real-life models, and vivid imagination keep this book alive at every turn. Ultimately, readers will find My Revolutions' greatest success to be the way in which its plot echoes Michael Frame's revolutionary mindset and fundamental belief that "Nothing is permanent. Everything is subject to change."

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