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

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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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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 (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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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51 of 56 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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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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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krichman on January 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
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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