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Magic Seeds (Naipaul, V. S.) Hardcover – November 16, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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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From Bookmarks Magazine

Half A Life (2001) might have been better been left without this sequel, which ruffles reviewers’ feathers as only a grand old man of literature can. Though his trophy shelf holds a Nobel Prize, his past accomplishments buy him little sympathy. In fact, it’s often difficult to tell if critics are more put off by Magic Seeds or their appraisal of Willie Chandran as a mouthpiece for Naipaul’s politics. For an author whose greatest works have a heavy dose of autobiography, this reaction is not surprising, though it makes one wonder whether critics are reading the novel or dissecting the author. In the end, one hopes the unlikable characters, implausible plotting, and general fog of pessimism are what doom this book, not critical disappointment in Naipaul.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Series: Naipaul, V. S.
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (November 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375407367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375407369
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,555,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Magic Seeds is the sequel to V.S. Naipaul's powerful novel, Half a Life. If you have not yet read that book, I strongly urge you to do so before you read this one. Otherwise, you will feel like Scotty beamed you up into a seat of an airplane on its way somewhere without any warning.

In Half a Life, Willie Chandran left his native India to pursue his education in England and found himself to be miserable there. With a little notoriety from his writing, he attracts the attention of a wealthy wife and moves to Africa where he lives an indolent life. In that book, Willie is established as someone too passive to seize on his own desires . . . and leads a shadow-like existence that doesn't please him.

In Magic Seeds, Willie has left Africa and finds himself as a temporary visitor in Berlin with his radicalized sister who wants him to return to India as a guerrilla fighter. While there, he realizes that revolutionary warfare is often more about the power lust of the revolutionaries than any potential benefit to those who they are supposed to be liberating. The resulting story is a scathing indictment of leftist revolutionary movements. After many years in the field, Willie turns himself in and is imprisoned. There, he finds that escaping the revolutionaries is almost as hard as ever . . . and his life still suffers from being too passive in the face of the resolve of others.

Unexpectedly released from prison, Willie returns to England and encounters the modern "civilized" world and finds it wanting as well. But Willie has started to grow up at last and begins to seize on initiative to get what he wants . . . and to learn from those who have been too greedy at following their impulses and ideologies.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The title of V.S. Naipaul's new novel refers to the beginning of the revolution by the guerilla fighters his main character, Wllie Chandran, meets in India. It also seems to refer to the magic seeds that can produce a raceless society through miscegenation. In either case, the story does not hold up as intriguing as it could have been, as Naipaul inexplicably makes Willie a passive observer of the life around him.

I had never read Naipaul's previous novel about Willie, "Half a Life", so I assume I am at a disadvantage to appreciate the scope of his development as presented in this book. But I have to fault the author for not providing more of a backstory to lure me into his rather exotic plot, which takes Willie to Berlin to be with his radical sister after escaping both his wife and a colonial rebellion in Africa. His sister pushes him to go to India to join the Maoist guerillas. But through a series of misadventures, he ends up with the wrong guerrillas and stays with this band of misfits for seven years. Willie becomes a revolutionary participating in crimes that terrorize the countryside the group claims to represent. The best portion of the book takes place in India, where he is paired individually with each guerilla, who in turn tells the tale of how that person became a guerilla. Through this literary technique, no matter how contrived it gets, we get completely unique pictures of India. In a moment of epiphany after turning himself to the police, Willie spends some time in jail where Naipaul's vivid descriptions of the different castes of prisoners reveals much about Indian society as a whole. Willie then goes to England, where apparently in Naipaul's previous stories, he went to school. In London, his friend Roger shows up and tells of how he met and lost his mistress.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By mallard on December 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Though he has won the Nobel Prize in literature, V.S. Nai paul has been criticized for rewriting the same story many times in more than a dozen novels. Naipaul's fiction often revolves around characters who lurch from place to place, searching for an identity that exists only in their imaginations.

"Magic Seeds" is this kind of novel, but it also demonstrates Naipaul's keen ability to explore human action and its motivation. Here, Naipaul returns to Willie Chandran, the central character in his 2001 novel, "Half a Life." As a cultural drifter, Willie easily fits into the strand of characters populating Naipaul's work.

In "Half a Life," he moves from India to London and finally to Africa in the late 1950s, where he marries a Portuguese woman and appears to settle. "Magic Seeds" jumps ahead 18 years to Berlin, where Willie, six months after leaving his wife, now lives "in a temporary, half-and-half way" with his sister Sarojini, experiencing the listlessness that has plagued him since his youth.

Willie's problem, as he sees it, is that he has always been "someone on the outside" for whom "time passes fruitlessly by." He garners little sympathy from Sarojini, who berates him with diatribes condemning his "colonial psychosis." She views Willie as a privileged man who has deliberately avoided taking on a meaningful life as a revolutionary.

According to Sarojini, Willie should have participated in a "glorious war" of revolution as an inhabitant of both India and Africa during times of upheaval.

"We all have wars to go to," she says, arguing that fighting to help people who are slaves in their own land should be viewed as an obligation.
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