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A House for Mr. Biswas Paperback – March 13, 2001

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375707166
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707162
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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 Inside Flap

The early masterpiece of V. S. Naipaul?s brilliant career, A House for Mr. Biswas is an unforgettable story inspired by Naipaul's father that has been hailed as one of the twentieth century's finest novels.

In his forty-six short years, Mr. Mohun Biswas has been fighting against destiny to achieve some semblance of independence, only to face a lifetime of calamity. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning death of his father, for which he is inadvertently responsible, Mr. Biswas yearns for a place he can call home. But when he marries into the domineering Tulsi family on whom he indignantly becomes dependent, Mr. Biswas embarks on an arduous?and endless?struggle to weaken their hold over him and purchase a house of his own. A heartrending, dark comedy of manners, A House for Mr. Biswas masterfully evokes a man?s quest for autonomy against an emblematic post-colonial canvas.

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Customer Reviews

Biswas was the fourth book I read by him and it just blew me away.
Dennis Dalman
It's easy to empathize with Mr. Biswas, for he is a character of the most universal sort -- everyone can relate to his desire for autonomy, freedom, and independence.
If you like prose that is not pompous, full of gentle wit, and clearly in the hands of a master, and a story of rare poignancy - this is your book.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Like most of the other reviewers, I was captivated by Naipaul's obvious mastery of the language. This book is worth reading for that alone. But it also worth reading for the beauty of the story. It is a simple story: a man is born into a world devoid of opportunity; he feels himself belittled by that world, trapped in a role that makes him merely an appendage in other people's lives; against the odds and all expectations, he carves out a place for himself, a home, where he can be his own man and the leading actor of his own life. While it is true that the character Mohun Biswas is not entirely sympathetic -- indeed he is often exasperating and occasionally contemptible -- I felt I understood why he acted as he did, and could empathize. This is a testimony to the power of Naipaul's artistry; he has, in tracing Biswas from birth to death, created a fully developed human being, as perfect a simulcram of a real person as exists in modern literature. Being able to understand, and share in, the life journey of such a character is a powerful experience.
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82 of 93 people found the following review helpful By L. Feld on September 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
�A House for Mr. Biswas� is all of the following -- complex, psychologically perceptive, emotionally difficult, rewarding, moving, depressing, tragi-comic, deeply ironic, metaphoric, nightmarishly surreal, utterly believable, honest, exasperating, claustrophobic, prudish in some ways (no sex, for instance), deeply human, liberating, brilliant, frustrating, beautifully written � and much more. It is a book which very well may tempt you, as it tempted me, to just say �the hell with it� about halfway through, as Mr. Biswas struggles, but never seems able to achieve, autonomy, self respect, happiness, freedom (especially from the suffocating, sprawling Tulsi family � the ultimate in-laws from hell!!), let alone the �house� referred to in the title. But don�t give in to temptation! �A House for Mr. Biswas� is a book that richly rewards those who stick with it, who persevere, just as Mr. Biswas does, although at times you may feel like you can�t take it anymore (one step forwards, two steps back, argggghhh!). Perhaps a helpful attitude in reading this book, which I strongly recommend you consider, is to think of yourself as a �reader and learner� (to use V.S. Naipaul�s term for the Tulsi schoolchildren) at the feet of a superb writer with something to say and a great deal of wisdom to impart.
In sum, �A House for Mr. Biswas� is a deeply satisfying (as opposed to �entertaining� or superficially �enjoyable�) book, NOT easy summer �beach reading�, but a book which confirms the psychological cliché that it�s the HARD STUFF which is potentially the most rewarding emotionally. So, don�t let the fact �A House for Mr.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on June 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
As a British colony, Trinidad became the home of many Indian immigrants, and "A House for Mr. Biswas" tells the story of a man who is born into and grows up in this society searching for a place he can call his own. In this novel, V.S. Naipaul vividly and picturesquely describes Trinidad as a thriving but generally poor island populated by a strong Hindu community with a waning observance of the caste system and where, even well into the twentieth century, the most common mode of transportation is the bicycle.
Naipaul's titular protagonist, Mohun Biswas, was born a bad omen, declared by a pundit (Hindu scholar) to be the eventual downfall of his parents; the prophecy is seemingly fulfilled when his father accidentally dies because of his mischief. After some brief schooling, Mr. Biswas (as he is called throughout the novel, even as a young boy) embarks on a series of odd jobs: After an unsuccessful apprenticeship to a pundit, he is sent to work in a relative's rumshop and later becomes a sign-painter. It is on this job that he meets a pretty girl named Shama, whose family, named Tulsi, owns many properties and businesses in Trinidad. A marriage is arranged between Biswas and Shama, and he soon finds himself a prisoner of the Tulsi family in a way, a situation which becomes the basis for his lifelong struggle for independence.
The Tulsis' house, called the Hanuman House, is crowded with members of Shama's extended family, including her mother, her uncle Seth, who manages much of the family's businesses, brothers, sisters, and innumerable and indistinguishable nieces and nephews -- living conditions which lead to irritation and violent arguments with in-laws.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Greg Nyquist VINE VOICE on October 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of the handful of true classics written since the Second World War, and the greatest novel ever written by someone who lived and grew up in the Third World. It is a story told with great compassion and humor of Mohun Biswas, a man who, despite all his faults and weaknesses, is head and shoulders above his provincial but wealthy in-laws. The novel chronicles Mr. Biswas's sad but dogged struggle to attain a level of dignity among people sunk in stupidity and a mania for status. Reading this book, I began to understand Naipaul's especially pessimistic non-ideological conservatism. He sees all too clearly how the problems of the Third World are a product of certain type of congenital dysfunction. This is the tragedy of the novel. The people he describes are victims of their own states of mind. Any attempt to "liberate" them would surely fail, because you cannot cure sicknesses of the soul. Biswas realizes he can do nothing about his in-laws. They are hopeless cases. When they move to a country state, instead of harvesting the many orange trees on the property, they begin chopping them down so they can pick the oranges that much easier. By this time, Biswas is too much of a fatalist even to be angry about this any more. In Biswas fatalism we see the seeds of Naipaul's pessimistic vision of the Third World.
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