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20th Century House For Mr Biswas [Paperback]

V Naipaul , Ian Buruma
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 4 1993 Penguin Twentieth Century Classics
The book that first brought Naipaul worldwide acclaim, this richly comic novel tells the moving story of a man without a single asset who enters a life devoid of opportunity, and whose tumble-down house becomes a potent symbol of the search for identity in a postcolonial world.

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'A marvellous prose epic that matches the best 19th century novels' Newsweek --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

"Naipaul has constructed a marvelous prose epic that matches the best nineteenth-century novels for richness of comic insight and final, tragic power."–Newsweek

From the Trade Paperback edition. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can go home again...and again... Jan. 9 2003
A House for Mr. Biswas was the fifth book of V.S. Naipaul's that I have read, and I think nicely punctuates the first phase of his oeuvre. In order, I read Between Father and Son, The Mystic Masseur, The Suffrage of Elvira, Miguel Street, and A House for Mr. Biswas; and now I am on to The Middle Passage. I recommend reading Between Father and Son before A House for Mr. Biswas because of the revealing nature of the former, the clearly autobiographical nature of the latter, and the added poignancy that comes from fully recognizing the aspirations and achievements of both the fictional and the real participants of Mr. Naipaul's life. While the other works are entertaining and offer insight into life in Trinidad, they are not critical in forming a complete appreciation for A House for Mr. Biswas. Naipaul's letters to and from his family during his time at Oxford clarify and qualify what he says later in his first mature work and longest novel.
A House for Mr. Biswas opens with the announcement of the death of our hero, and then traces his past though his youth, marriage, career, and the achievement of his lifelong dream-the acquisition of his own home. Mr. Biswas is representative of everyone who has struggled to identify themselves as an individual in a crowd. Having lived his life under the ostensible control of others, it is only in this final achievement of possessing a home that he truly becomes free. Naipaul's often acclaimed prose is readily evident in this fond portrayal of his father, and his often declaimed pessimism is nowhere to be found by this reader. Although Mr.
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A House For Mr. Biswas, the acclaimed novel by Nobel prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul, reads like an epic and is clearly the work of an accomplished writer. Naipaul's depiction of one man's life, beginning with his birth in rural Trinidad at which time he is labeled as "cursed" by the local holy man, is an extraordinary account of an ordinary man and his struggle to provide for his family. So why does this book, filled with beautiful prose, memorable characters, and heart-wrenching events, feel like it is about 200 pages too long?

Mohun Biswas, an ethnic-Indian born in Trinidad in the early 1900s, abruptly marries into the Tulsi family, and his life is from that point on dominated by his controlling mother-in-law, Mrs. Tulsi, and Seth, her brother and head of the Tulsi household. The Tulsi family provides him with housing and various jobs, ranging from managing their dry goods store to supervising their farm, but they also provide him with constant harassment and grief. Mr. Biswas longs for the day that he can own his own home, and his pursuit of this goal is the novel's persistent theme which gives it its epic quality.
A House For Mr. Biswas is, ultimately, a finely crafted novel. Naipaul's powerful, moving prose beautifully depicts the struggle, pain, and sorrow of one man's life; at the same time he paints a calm and full portrait of the ethnic-Indian experience in rural Trinidad. In many ways, this book does for rural Trinidad what John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath does for Salinas, California. It's only flaw, perhaps, is that the book's length feels somewhat forced, as if Naipaul believed that a 600-page novel would more powerfully depict his character's tragic nature than, say, a 400-page novel. The truth is that Naipaul's prose is so robust, and his characters so genuinely human, that A House For Mr. Biswas achieved the status of epic long before its final page.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Biswas, Homeless Jan. 17 2002
A House for Mr. Biswas, is not so much the story of Mr. Biswas, but of the South Asian extended family - its turmoil, gossip, reunions and joys. Naipaul is unerringly accurate when describing the extended Indian family: the competition between parents over the successes of each other's children; the power of money and elder authority; the elevation of boys over girls in terms of future possibilities and education.
Mr. Biswas is a heartbreaking and frustrating character. His mistakes, his ignorance, flares of tempers, and his valiant attempts at tryng to become independent from his mother's family turn him into a three dimensional character - one that you can both love and hate. His family is also well developed and complex - from his wife Shama to his young son, Anand, struggling under the weight of familial expectations.
This book didn't receive a four star review because it doesn't always capture your full attention. This is not the type of novel you spend all weekend reading. It is the type of novel that you read for a half hour to twenty minutes before going to bed, it's good but it's not enough to keep you up all night unable to put it down.
The second criticism I have of the book is its rushed ending. The novel itself has an interesting structure, in that we learn the future of Mr. Biswas, backtrack and then follow the course of his life up until his death. However, those few pages at the beginning of the novel are the same as what you receive at the end - a rushed and incomplete rendering of Mr. Biswas's dream - a house of his own. Also, the reader after several hundred pages is expected to remember the details from the beginning that Naipaul neglects to reiterate at the end. Considering the tremendous detail that accompanies the rest of the book one has to wonder if this was a planned theme: the realization of a dream isn't all that fulfilling; or was it simply laziness on the part of the author? That dilemma is for you to resolve.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars a delicate hand
Using an unreliable and not completely likeable but nonetheless sympathetic narrator to offer a critique and insights into the daily lives, nuances and reality of complex family... Read more
Published 16 months ago by pragmatic consumer
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwrenching
During his 46 short years, Mr Biswas has always struggled to seek and define his sense of self but to no avail. A House for Mr Biswas is V.S. Read more
Published on Sept. 12 2009 by Saro
4.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Work For Me (middle-class, white, male American)
You can click on my "about me" icon and see that I don't shy away from heavier literature. And I really, really wanted this novel to work for me. Read more
Published on Oct. 19 2002 by Stacey Cochran
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, real social criticism, so human, so much fun
I'd always gone along with the bias against Naipaul due to his conservative, some would say neocolonial, politics. Big mistake. Read more
Published on May 12 2002 by Tony Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars This book defines "engaging"
This book defines "engaging". Though I have never been to Trinidad, I now feel like I've spent significant time there. Read more
Published on March 9 2002 by greglor
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't--
Despite the tears, nobody ever says this thoughout this long, fascinating book. A story of generations, of family dispute and disparity, A House For Mr. Read more
Published on March 5 2002 by asphlex
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good, Slowly Engaging Read
This was VS Naipaul's break-out book, although it took a few years for it to really take off, first in England, and then everywhere else. Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2002 by Ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars mr. biswas
i went though an "indian author" stage and mr. biswas was one of my favorites...i could actually smell the deteriorating paint on the house, it's dreams, the human sweat... Read more
Published on Dec 30 2001 by "jojojo@netvision.net.il"
5.0 out of 5 stars Naipaul's Masterpiece
This book is deservedly regarded as the new Nobel laureate's masterpiece. It is tells the life story of Mr. Mohun Biswas, a Hindu born in rural Trinidad. Mr. Read more
Published on Dec 28 2001 by suetonius
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Biswas
Tragi-comedy about a funny little man and his war with his inlaws. Mr. Biswas finally achieves some personal satisfation by buying and living in his own home; even if he is only... Read more
Published on Nov. 30 2001 by "cmerrell"
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