A House For Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul. New York. 1961. McGraw Hill. 531 pages. Jacket design by Stephen Russ.


A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS is my favorite V. S. Naipaul novel.


house for mr biswasFROM THE PUBLISHER -


   The rambling odyssey of Mr Biswas in his quest for happiness and freedom, and of course for a house, is a delight to read. Probably Naipaul's most human book, it is a bit as if Charles Dickens was an East Indian early 20th century Trinidadian, but better. Mr Biswas is a gentle man, thoughtful and fastidious, with a taste for privacy - a pleasant thing if one happens to have money, which he does not. He is a Hindu of high caste but very low fortune, living in the West Indies, and A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS is the story of his longing for independence and a house of his own, which becomes for him a symbol of everything that life has denied him. V. S. Naipaul tells how, in the end, Mr Biswas gets his house. Mr Biswas has been brought up on the haphazard charity of relatives. He is lucky to have his talent for sign writing, as the shopkeepers in Trinidad like to make a show and Mr Biswas earns a kind of living. Literally forced by reason of his high caste to marry into the Tulsi family, he becomes almost part of their furniture in a teeming establishment ruled by old Mrs Tulsi. Mr Biswas might as well have been embraced by an octopus, for to be private, thoughtful, or fastidious is to be a traitor among Tulsis. Following him from birth to death, the author writes with the delicate, dry humour that has attracted great critical acclaim wherever his books have appeared. He gives not only a wonderfully detailed and colourful picture of Hindu life in the West Indies, but also a picture of humanity anywhere as it contends with hardship and loneliness, pushing out its frail but stub- born shoots of hope and dignity. It was clear from his earlier novels that V. S. Naipaul was one of the most distinguished writers to emerge from the West Indies. Now with A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS, he has written unquestionably the best regional novel about them that has yet appeared - a book which triumphantly transcends geographical considerations, and a tale so true, so exact, and so deeply compassionate, that it put him among the most highly regarded authors in the world on the day it was published.

Naipaul V SSir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (born August 17, 1932 in Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago), better known as V. S. Naipaul, is a Trinidadian-born British writer of Indo-Trinidadian descent, currently resident in Wiltshire. Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001 and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990. He is the son, older brother, uncle, and cousin of published authors Seepersad Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Neil Bissoondath, and Vahni Capildeo, respectively. His current wife is Nadira Naipaul, a former journalist. In 1971, Naipaul became the first person of Indian origin to win a Booker Prize for his book In a Free State. In awarding Naipaul the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, the Swedish Academy praised his work ‘for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.’ The Committee added, ‘Naipaul is a modern philosophe carrying on the tradition that started originally with Lettres persanes and Candide. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired, he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony.’ The Committee also noted Naipaul’s affinity with the Polish author of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad. His fiction and especially his travel writing have been criticised for their allegedly unsympathetic portrayal of the Third World. Edward Said, for example, has argued that he ‘allowed himself quite consciously to be turned into a witness for the Western prosecution’, promoting ‘colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies’.This perspective is most salient in The Middle Passage, which Naipaul composed after returning to the Caribbean after ten years of self-exile in England, and An Area of Darkness, an arguably stark condemnation on his ancestral homeland of India. His works have become required reading in many schools within the Third World. Among English-speaking countries, Naipaul’s following is notably stronger in the United Kingdom than it is in the United States. Though a regular visitor to India since the 1960s, he has arguably ‘analysed’ India from an arms-length distance, in some cases initially with considerable distaste (as in An Area of Darkness), and later with ‘grudging affection’ (as in A Million Mutinies Now), and of late perhaps even with ‘ungrudging affection’ (most manifestly in his view that the rise of Hindutva embodies the welcome, broader civilisational resurgence of India). He has also made attempts over the decades to identify his ancestral village in India, believed to be near Gorakhpur in Eastern Uttar Pradesh from where his grandfather had migrated to Trinidad as indentured labourer. In several of his books Naipaul has observed Islam, and he has been criticised for dwelling on negative aspects, e.g. nihilism among fundamentalists. Naipaul’s support for Hindutva has also been controversial. He has been quoted describing the destruction of the Babri Mosque as a ‘creative passion’, and the invasion of Babur in the 16th century as a ‘mortal wound.’ He views Vijayanagar, which fell in 1565, as the last bastion of native Hindu civilisation. He remains a somewhat reviled figure in Pakistan, which he bitingly condemned in Among the Believers. In 1998 a controversial memoir by Naipaul’s sometime protégé Paul Theroux was published. The book provides a personal, though occasionally caustic portrait of Naipaul. The memoir, entitled Sir Vidia’s Shadow, was precipitated by a falling-out between the two men a few years earlier. In early 2007, V.S Naipaul made a long-awaited return to his homeland of Trinidad. He urged citizens to shrug off the notions of ‘Indian’ and ‘African’ and to concentrate on being ‘Trinidadian’. He was warmly received by students and intellectuals alike and it seems, finally, that he has come to some form of closure with Trinidad. Naipaul is married to Nadira Naipaul. She was born Nadira Khannum Alvi in Kenya and got married in Pakistan. She worked as a journalist for Pakistani newspaper, The Nation for ten years before meeting Naipaul. They married in 1996, two months after the death of Naipaul’s first wife, Patricia Hale. Nadira had been divorced twice before her marriage to Naipaul. She has two children from a previous marriage, Maliha and Nadir.






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