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Starred Review. At the end of Half a Life, Naipaul's previous novel, Willie, a young Indian in late 1950s London, travels to Africa. At the beginning of his new novel, Willie is in Berlin with his bossy sister, Sarojini. It is 18 years later. Revolution has uprooted Willie's African existence. Sarojini hooks him up with a guerrilla group in India, and Willie, always ready to be molded to some cause, returns to India. The guerrillas, Willie soon learns, are "absolute maniacs." But caught up, as ever, in the energy of others, Willie stays with them for seven years. He then surrenders and is tossed into the relative comfort of jail. When an old London friend (a lawyer named Roger) gets Willie's book of short stories republished, Willie's imprisonment becomes an embarrassment to the authorities. He is now seen as a forerunner of "postcolonial writing." He returns to London, where he alternates between making love to Perdita, Roger's wife, and looking for a job. One opens up on the staff of an architecture magazine funded by a rich banker (who is also cuckolding Roger). Willie's continual betweenness—a state that makes him, to the guerrillas, a man "who looks at home everywhere"—is the core theme of this novel, and the story is merely the shadow projected by that theme. Sometimes, especially toward the end of the book, as Willie's story becomes more suburban, there is a penumbral sketchiness to the incidents. At one point, Willie, remarking on the rich London set into which he has been flung, thinks: "These people here don't understand nullity." Naipaul does—he is a modern master of the multiple ironies of resentment, the claustrophobia of the margins. In a world in which terrorism continually haunts the headlines, Naipaul's work is indispensable.
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*Starred Review* This is a novel about war. It doesn't feature traditional pitched battles between the forces of declared belligerent nations; rather, it's about underground revolutionary movements that fight--ambush, really--police and civilians. This latest work by the beloved Nobel laureate is a sequel to Half a Life (2000), which introduced the character of Willie Chandran, an Indian, a son of a Brahmin and a low-caste woman, whose participation in secret revolutionary programs in various locales over the years has been more about his search for purpose, identity, and control over his own destiny than about aiding other people's struggles against oppression. Naipaul's new novel, then, is a continuation of Willie's experiences, first in India and then upon his return to England, where he lived 30 years before. Naipaul's elaborately constructed novel is an anatomy of revolution but in its clandestine, guerilla "format." It is Naipaul's genius to individualize the abstract, in this case giving the concept of perpetual, worldwide fights against political tyranny and social inequality a deeply sculpted face--Willie's--and through him, offering a richly imagined example of what drives the revolutionary. But, ultimately, the novel reaches its full depth in tracking Willie's disillusion, as he is left, after all his attempts to grasp onto an idealized vision of society, to face the reality of what it is people truly want and need. We expect brilliant thought and sensitive artistry from Naipaul, and once again, we are not disappointed. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.