Paris Review: The first time I read about you, you were described as having “a nonspecifically exotic appearance” that marked you “as a potential native of about half the world’s nations.” How do you usually explain your origins?
Hari Kunzru: I was born in London. Depending on who I’m talking to, and how I feel, I might describe myself simply as a Londoner, British (that one’s only crept in since I came to live in New York—to anyone in the UK, it’s weirdly meaningless), English, the son of an Indian father and an English mother, Kashmiri Pandit, rootless cosmopolitan . . .
Paris Review: I read someone like Zadie Smith and am struck by how skilled she is with voices. And this talent is so readily visible in GODS WITHOUT MEN, too. Not to be a sociological determinist, but is there something about this generation of writers that makes you particularly adept at doing this kind of tongue tripping?
Hari Kunzru: Yes. I’d agree with that—doing voices, performing selves. It’s an important skill, when you’re thrown into a situation where ideas about race and culture are highly charged, and you don’t have a simple answer for people when they ask where you’re from.
He takes pains with historical accuracy, writes beautifully constructed sentences, does not pander to a dumbed-down reading public, never settles for the carelessly selected phrase but almost unerringly gets the correct word for the situation…