Transmission, a rags-to-riches-to-disaster story about a computer virus, the man behind it, and the people whose lives it touches, is a change of setting for author Hari Kunzru, whose extremely successful debut, The Impressionist, took place in early 20th-century England and India. This story begins in present-day India, but moves to California when young Arjun Mehta, recent graduate of a technical university, lands a much-desired (if not desirable) job with an American software conglomerate. As Arjun's story develops in America, it interlaces with those of several others, including Guy Swift, a wealthy, self-satisfied executive at a London consulting firm whose sleek, ugly full-service high-rise apartment building is as shallow as he is; and Leela Zahir, a Bollywood star who is the secret and not-so-secret crush of many Indian males (Arjun included).
Kunzru uses each of his characters as a point of attack on the corporate world, without being clumsy or partisan. His targets are essentially unlikable, but Kunzru is unafraid to show their strengths alongside their flaws. Arjun is an awkward and unlikely center; trapped between dreams of wealth and a secret desire to take down "the system," with one of the computer viruses he creates after work in his cramped, company-owned apartment. The virus he unleashes after losing his job, which projects Leela's picture onto computer screens before destroying data, complicates our sympathies, as if his angry destructiveness lessens his right to happiness. Similarly, the near-collapse of Guy's career, due in part to the virus' destruction of one of his computerized presentations, draws sympathy despite his arrogance. Kunzru's narrative moves as smoothly and as rapidly as a fuse on fire. His style here is a bit more explosive and a little less ruminative than it was in The Impressionist, and yet with Transmission he has built a page-turner with poise.
Max Winter writes from New York City.