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A mesmerizing, comic tale of post-colonial Mr Bisw
Jan 03, 2005 05:26 PM 5747 Views
(Updated Jan 03, 2005 05:26 PM)



V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas is an exotic novel. He writes about Indians in Trinidad; his acute observations and fantastic skill at capturing each element of human life and emotion makes this novel endearing, lasting, rich, eternal.

Having grown up with a desire to write myself, I find this novel as a beautiful piece that not only tells the story of Mr Biswas, but also should be read as a brilliant piece of work emerging from a writer's struggle and strife to define his childhood, the world he has grown up in, and the world he will always associate with his past.

The novel eventhough set in Trinidad captures essential elements of Indian classes struggling to live with hopes and dreams stiffled by the plain lack of money, labor or talent required to achieve them. The novel is brilliant in parts as well the whole: in parts where he describes the ''sons and daddies'' outside the examination center, where he describes the complex, contrived relationship between people; where he writes about the relationship between father and son; where he captures the jealousies, envies, anger, trust, hopelessness of family members; where he invokes imagery about festivities, death ceremony, birth. I could go on and on, for having lived in a society teeming with such instances, I was amazed with the ease and ability Naipaul has written about these.

The novel is witty, has comic relief, sarcasm, has bursts of sentimentality that arises due to strain between close relations, and is full of vivid colors, flavors, smells, images, sounds and characters of a strange world. I have always come across articles talking about Naipaul's distaste for India, for his acerbic wit, describing him as a controversial person full of scathing remarks. But after reading this book, I see myself saluting this man for writing such a frank, honest, culturally rich and emotionally correct novel.

Our country and culture allows for existence for very complex characters, rooted in true or false beliefs, nurtured by social and historial chaos and Naipaul looks around and starts telling the tale with a vision of someone who has suffered and yet succeeded by coming out of this miasma. He describes the victims, and he also shows the way by which the victims can save themselves.

This is also a story about the desire to own, to possess a place that you can call your own. This is a story about how several dreams of the parents doused in the daily struggles of existence are later realized through their sons and daughters. This is a story of disorder, and of the underlying order. This is the story about characters and families, that like the House Mr Biswas eventually has for himself, present bright facades and paints outside, and internally struggle to stay up, together, useful and integrated, relying on each other. It indeed is a superb piece of literature!!

V.S. Naipaul is a master of understatement and his mastery gives his work real strength in its execution. The author is humble, self-effacing and unobtrusive, which enable the reader to become lost and often transported by the story. The language is unadorned but beautifully crafted. The tale itself is sanguine and endearing about a simple Indian man who seeks his own home in Trinidad. The text is imaginatively laced with brilliant comedy and rich irony.

Home ownership for Mohun Biswas is always just beyond his grasp or temporary in its occupation or destroyed by man or nature. While he conducts his search and finds the means to own his house, he is enslaved to the will of others offering him shelter. Life invariably confounds him in his inability to impose his will to shape his own destiny.

His stint as a newspaper reporter for The Sentinel, the search for oil, the river drowning, the tempest, his journalism series on the Deserving Destitutes and the construction of his home on Sikkim Street were tragi-comic gems. Naipaul's ear for dialogue always rang true. Educated at Oxford, Naipaul stayed close to home on this tale: his father wrote for a newspaper in Trinidad. The characters appear to be extensions of his family (his father and sister) or himself at various stages in his life.

This is a truly great book! I cannot recommend it highly enough to readers seeking a rich literary experience.

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House For Mr Biswas, A - V S Naipaul