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One can hardly imagine Hanif Kureishi attending a family reunion. The British novelist and playwright has long populated his fiction with thinly veiled and unflattering portrayals of members of his family, outraging his kin as well as his former partner, Tracey Scoffield. Yet in the memoir My Ear at His Heart, Kureishi seems bent on avoiding such conflicts, embarking on “a quest,” as he explains, “for my place in father’s history and fantasy, and for the reasons my father lived the semi-broken life he did.” The elder Kureishi, nicknamed “Shannoo,” is widely believed to have inspired the somewhat buffoonish father figure depicted in Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, but he receives sympathetic treatment here. Kureishi portrays a sensitive, cerebral, and archetypally modern man forever eluded by happiness: “In place of a discarded Islam, and functioning like spiritual medicine, dad—a Muslim who had left India in his early twenties and never returned—made a religion at home out of library books, discontent and literary ambition.” Shannoo was a part-time journalist, but he never made good on his dream to become a published novelist. This had to hurt. Shannoo grew up in India in the shadow of his brother Omar, and left for England as soon as he had the chance. Omar, who moved to Pakistan six years after its creation in 1947, became well-known across Southeast Asia as a print journalist and radio cricket commentator. Shannoo, meanwhile, toiled as a civil servant for the Pakistani Embassy in London while his precocious son began to gain recognition as a young playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. Years later, when Kureishi receives the manuscript of Shannoo’s autobiographical novel—An Indian Adolescence—he reads it, examines his father’s other unpublished novels, and reminisces about their relationship, hoping to better understand the man. Fascinatingly, Kureishi concludes that while his father wanted him to succeed as a writer, he didn’t want to be overshadowed. Another paradox worth pondering—something Kureishi doesn’t do—is whether the son felt the same way about the father. Or, for that matter, about another family member; Kureishi’s sister Yasmin claims that her brother has always bashed her own writing endeavors. Whatever the case, a contemplative and restrained Kureishi explores the question of whether someone who fails to achieve his dream can still be a success; this is the most affecting aspect of My Ear at His Heart. Perhaps inevitably, there are certain irritants along the way. Kureishi’s scattershot musings—on everything from British racism to pop music to the craft of writing, not to mention too many uncles on his father’s side to keep track of—at times induce a mild, literary vertigo, while his affinity for Freud feels anachronistic. But there are valuable digressions as well, like Kureishi’s penetrating insights into the evolution of British culture since the 1960s, and his captivating anecdotes concerning writers V.S. Naipaul and Philip Roth. But nothing moves so much as the story of one man’s persistent attempts to publish deeply personal—and perhaps for this reason not very resonant—novels about his life in India and England.