My Revolutions is a novel by Hari Kunzru about a man whose hidden past comes back to haunt him. It tells the story of a man called Michael Frame who is living a life of a lie. Everyone, including his wife and teenage step-daughter, know him as a suburban father who goes by that name. The truth is that his real name is Chris Carver, and he was a radical student in the 1960s who briefly engaged in terrorism by denoting bombs around London in protest of the Vietnam War. One day, two chance encounters force him to relieve and encounter his previous life. The main theme in My Revolutions is that a person cannot run away from their past and it can never be forgotten.
The novels narrative begins in 1998 whereby Michael is presented as a 50-year-old family man working in a suburban bookshop. He is married to a businesswoman called Miranda who operates a cosmetics company. He has a teenager step-daughter called Sam with whom they get along just fine. In fact, as far as Miranda and Sam are concerned, Michaels past life is an unclear but uncomplicated issue- it is virtually as if he did not exist prior to coming into their lives. The truth is that Michael is not who he claims to be, and has been living under a different name for the last two decades or so. His real name is actually Chris Carver, a fugitive on the run from the law and a former member of one of the most notorious and violent terrorist groups of the 1960s and 1970s London. He has managed to maintain his former identity as a secret while also trying to put this tumultuous part of his existence behind him. As a young man, he had engaged in several affairs with promiscuous women, eventually falling in love with a beautiful, passionate and charismatic terrorist leader called Anna Addison.
While on a vacation in France with his wife, Chris sees someone who looks like Anna. This observation shocks him since she was supposedly killed during an embassy hostage situation in Copenhagen. Upon returning from France, Chris is confronted by a sleazy old associate called Miles Bridgeman. Miles wants him to publicly admit who he once was together with the crimes he committed against the government. Doing so would jeopardize the cover life he had worked so hard to build with his wife and step-daughter under the Michael Frame identity. Chris is forced to go on the run in a desperate attempt to outwit Miles and track Anna down. As he does so, he reminisces on his life as an isolated young man hopelessly in love with her. He also remembers about a man called Sean Ward who was the leader of the terrorist group and competed with him for Annas affection. The three participated in several terrorist attacks until they were forced apart by the events of one horrifying night, never to see each other again.
My Revolutions takes place in two different time settings. One is in 1998, which is Michaels present, while the other is in the volatile 1960s and 70s. Then, the Vietnam War was inducing anti-war sentiments in the youth in Europe and the United States. The storyline changes back and forth between the two settings, with Michael making appearances in both of them. The settings highlight the diametrically opposed sides of his life. In the present, he is married to Miranda and assisting her bring up her teenage daughter. He seems to be a bumbling idiot who is unable to communicate with his wife or step-daughter, and who cannot figure out exactly what he wants to do with his own life. On the other hand, he is young British radical in the 1960s who detonates bombs while philosophizing on the theoretical direction of a new society. In the story, detailed flashbacks regularly invade present after which the two sides of the novels main protagonist start melting into one. His past comes back to haunt him through the sudden reappearance of individuals he knew and ran away from in the 1960s. Before the story comes to an end, Michael must confront the life of a lie that he has been living and set the record straight with the only two people he loves; otherwise his past will expose him.
Most of the action in My Revolutions occurs in and around London, with both the time and place having a significant importance in the setting. When the main character is Michael Frame, the time is late twentieth century, precisely 1998. Since he is scared of being identified for who he really is, he leads a rather secluded, passive and laid-back life. He hopes that what happened during the 1960s is well behind him. All this changes when an associate from the past called Miles reappears, causing his thoughts and the narrative to return to 1968. Although Britain did not take part in the Vietnam War, the demonstrations and protests that were taking place in the United States at the time somehow influenced the British youth. However, demonstrations in the United Kingdom did not get as much press coverage as those in America and other parts of Europe. This fact is highlighted in the story through statements that the UK press all but declined to broadcast the events that were taking place. Explosives were being detonated while people were invading dilapidated houses and factories in order to set up informal youth hostels. Criminal activities were on the rise, particularly store burglaries and car theft. While sometimes the police took action and arrested several culprits, in some cases they simply ignored these activities. Whatever the case, these occurrences did not appear in the UK press.
Through some of the characters, Hari Kunzru highlights the contrast of peoples lives between the way they were in the 1960s and how they turned out to be in the 1990s. A character who presents a good example of this contrast is Michaels wife Miranda. During the 1960s, she lived a simple hippie life, desiring little or no material wealth. She earned a living by making natural cosmetic lotions inside her kitchen. The couple got along quite well in the course of those early years. By the 1990s, she had converted her homemade business into a thriving industry. She now has a thriving factory, is dressing in the expensive fashionable clothing, and is even planning to expand her business. Simply put, she was now into wealth and material possessions.
My Revolutions is a story about an individual coming into terms with his fears and mistakes while scrutinizing emotions and memory for the greater truth. By recalling who he once was, Michael Frame accepts the idea who he has become now. He is no longer a person who fights for world peace. Rather, he is an individual full of sorrow and regret who is seeking to find a tiny resemblance of the world within his own person. The novel brilliantly highlights the radical realism of the 1960s and the darker currents that appeared to run below it.
Kunzru, Hari. My Revolutions. Penguin, 2007. Print.
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