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The Mystic Masseur Paperback – January 8, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“One of the few contemporary writers of whom we can speak in terms of greatness.”–Mel Gussow, Newsday

“For sheer abundance of talent, there can hardly be a writer alive who surpasses V. S. Naipaul.”–The New York Times Book Review

“Naipaul’s writing is clean and beautiful, and he has a great eye for nuance.”–The Atlantic Monthly

“No one else around today…seems able to employ prose fiction so deeply as the very voice of exile.”–The New York Review of Books

From the Inside Flap

In this slyly funny and lavishly inventive novel-his first-V. S. Naipaul traces the unlikely career of Ganesh Ramsumair, a failed schoolteacher and impecunious village masseur who in time becomes a revered mystic, a thriving entrepreneur, and the most beloved politician in Trinidad. To understand a little better, one has to realize that in the 1940s masseurs were the island's medical practitioners of choice. As one character observes, "I know the sort of doctors they have in Trinidad. They think nothing of killing two, three people before breakfast."
Ganesh's ascent is variously aided and impeded by a Dickensian cast of rogues and eccentrics. There's his skeptical wife, Leela, whose schooling has made her excessively, fond. of; punctuation: marks!; and Leela's father, Ramlogan, a man of startling mood changes and an ever-ready cutlass. There's the aunt known as The Great Belcher. There are patients pursued by malign clouds or afflicted with an amorous fascination with bicycles. Witty, tender, filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of Trinidad's dusty Indian villages, The Mystic Masseur is Naipaul at his most expansive and evocative.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037570714X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707148
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a charming novel. And this is his first work, to boot. A literary debut like this has got to make a few would-be writers wince. At least it's hard for me to imagine how writers could paint characters with even less brushstrokes than Naipaul and still succeed in making them so warm and lively.

The magic of this novel is that, even though the setting is in remotely foreign Trinidad-Tobago, it will still secure any reader's attention from the very first page, the idiosyncratic conjugation of the verbs `to be' and `to have' in the native patois notwithstanding. What helps is the abundant humor largely of two types: one where you laugh along with the characters in the sheer fortuitous turn of events, the other where you smile at their forgivably human foibles and the narrator's wry observations.
The plot itself is humorous. A bookish student named Ganesh Ramsumair is wedded to the plucky Leela through the machination of a crafty penny-pincher named Ramlogan. Having found out prior to the wedding that Ramlogan is charging him for his relatives' food without his consent, Ganesh proceeds to swindle his father-in-law, during an elaborate Hindu marriage ritual - details of which are hard to explain. Having realized that he must now make a living, he tries a few odd jobs, before he hits by luck on the one profession that his island needed most: a mystic. A mystic? Even Ganesh himself is half-incredulous, but sooner or later people flock from all over the country, wanting his help in driving some demon out of someone or other. From there on, his fortune never wanes. The final metamorphosis converts Ganesh into a democratic politician (hah!), a destiny that culminates in his transformation into the thoroughly anglicized "G. Ramsay Muir OBE".
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Format: Paperback
The Mystic Masseur was Naipaul's first novel, and it is probably the best known of his works (a movie has been turned out by Messrs. Merchant & Ivory). The main character is one Ganesh Ramsumair, the son of an Indian immigrant to Trinidad, who seems to be blessed by fortune. Each time he is in danger of taking a wrong turn, his fate steps in and gently nudges him in the right direction. Ganesh first attends school in Port of Spain, where he feels inadequate and has only one friend, clever anglophile Indarsingh, who leaves for Oxford upon graduation. Ganesh then attends a teacher's college, and takes a position as an elementary school teacher. He is not a success and resigns his position for a life of idleness, which is ended when his father dies, bequeathing to him some land and some royalties from an oil company. When attending his father's funeral he meets his formidable relation, The Great Belcher, who is one of these wise elderly Indian women who are accostumed to running funerals, marriages, businesses and lives for their younger folk. He also meets Ramlogan, extremely unpleasant owner of a rhum shop who is quarrelsome but cowardly, and not above any underhandedness (he will turn up again and play a crucial part in Naipaul's "The Suffrage of Elvira"), whose daughter Leela he marries. Much more devious than would appear initially, Ganesh takes advantage of Ramlogan's pride and extracts from him a house in a remote village and a significant dowry. This is fortunate, because at this time the oil royalty checks stop coming in. Ganesh and Leela move into the Ramlogan's house, and quickly become acquainted with the local rhum-shop owner, Suruj Poopa, who becomes Ganesh's true friend and sounding board.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I try to keep up with Nobel laureates because I am always looking for good reading, and, often, I have never heard of the authors before. I found this book in my local used bookstore. I was intrigued that it was his first novel, and I was especially intrigued by the back cover (1980 paperback edition). There was a quote that comes early in the book:

"Leela," Ganesh said, "the boy want to know how much book it have here."
"Let me see," Leela said... "Four hundred Everyman, two hundred Penguin--six hundred. Six hundred, and one hundred Reader's Library, make seven hundred. I think with all the other book it have about fifteen hundred good book here."
Up in the upper right corner was the symbol of Penguin Publishing. It struck me funny that they would be so bold as to use a quote from the book that so blatantly plugs their line as being "good books" that I had to buy it.
And it's actually quite good. It's not just well-written, it's funny, something I was not expecting. I'm glad I began my Naipaul reading with this one. I believe it seems to be the consensus to begin with A House for Mr Biswas, but, to me, that would be like starting John Irving with A Prayer for Owen Meany--there's really nowhere to go but down.
The story concerns Ganesh a man from Trinidad who fails as a teacher, then as a masseur (he seems to hurt more than he helps), but then finally finds his calling as a healing mystic, all along keeping his one vice--books. Throughout his life he writes books, starting with 101 Questions and Answers about Hinduism. Here is a sample:
Question one: What is Hinduism?
Answer: Hinduism is the religion of the Hindu people.
Question two: Why am I a Hindu?
Answer: Because your parents and grandparents were Hindus.
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