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The International Writers Magazine
: Book Review

Transmission by Hari Kunzru
Publisher: Plume (Jan 2005)
ISBN: 0452286514
an enjoyable and exhilarating novel...'
A Keren Arnold Review

An e-mail appears in your in-box, with the subject line, ‘Hi, I saw this and thought of you.’ Intrigued, you click, and computer-aficionado Arjun Mehta’s favourite Bollywood star, Leela Zahir appears, dancing with seductive carefree abandon. Seconds later, your computer has crashed.

Transmission’ is the second novel by Hari Kunzru, author of the award-wining and best-selling novel, ‘The Impressionist’ and demonstrates his ability for navigating a wide range of ideas in the form of a cleverly plotted, exciting story, with authority and flair. It is bursting with satirical wit yet at the same time a touching and very real story of the fragility of human hopes and ambitions.

It tells the story of young Indian computer programmer Arjun Mehta, who travels to California after a job offer, in the hope of living out his dream life in a heady, Silicon Valley paradise. However his aspirations are soon quashed when he arrives and faces the reality of the exploitation of which he is a victim, and of a life of relative poverty in a country where he is an insignificant virus-tester in an enormous corporation. Everything about the new culture is alien to him, especially the way in which the object of his affections, colleague Christine, chooses to live her life. Soon, finding himself out of a job, confused by his feelings for Christine, utterly bewildered by America, and lying to his proud and happy family about the increasingly desperate situation in which he finds himself, Arjun Mehta snaps, and decides that it is time to prove his worth to the company that was so quick to let him go. He unleashes a virus, inspired by the love of his life and star of his favourite Bollywood movie. A virus that unbeknown to him, has devastating and unforeseen consequences. Before long the virus has spun out of control, leaving Arjun in the centre of an unintended and uncontrollable situation.

As the story unfolds, we are introduced to a range of characters who are affected by Arjun’s mischievous virus, one of them Leela Zahir herself, a film-star, a wealthy beautiful girl, a house-hold name in India, who turns out to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the whole novel, which is a particularly poignant touch. Filming a movie in a remote part of Scotland, Leela is a vulnerable and depressed heroine, who is free-spirited and yet remains caged by her vile, greedy mother. Also Guy Swift, an obnoxious high powered marketing executive, whose carefully mapped out plans for global success and domestic bliss begin to unravel when the virus Leela01 appears on the scene. Kunzru weaves his well-crafted and compelling prose throughout their unfolding fortunes with a satirical eye, and a capability for both humour and compassion.

This is an enjoyable and exhilarating novel, which handles its broad scope with confidence and flair. It is an exquisite portrait of the fallibility of the technological world, where at the mercy of computers anything can, and probably will happen, with devastating results. This insatiable plot and skilful prose remain the heart of the novel and make it a read which simply flies past in a blaze of insatiable wit and gritty realism, whilst at the same time retaining a bold fantastical quality. The resolutions at the end of the novel are particularly satisfying and it can be safely said, that after Leela, no-one is left quite the same, from the millions of internet game-freaks spending hours trying to regain their quest points by re-booting their pc’s, to the perpetrator, both hated, applauded and pursued, and also to the reader, who is left breathless from the fast-paced excitement, with a quiet dignity for the characters, and has acquired a new-found excitement and intrigue for the dancing paper-clip at the bottom of their computer screen at work. The sometimes un-palatable and often annoying characters, in particular the main character, who is often awkward and apathetic only adds to the delicious satirical edge, which always stays at the surface of this book, which captures economics, technology and modern pop-culture in its unflinching, yet affectionate grasp.
© Keren Arnold March 15th 2005

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