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Mohun Biswas has spent his 46 years of life striving for independence. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning of his father, he yearns for a place he can call home. He marries into the Tulsi family, on whom he becomes dependent, but rebels and takes on a succession of occupations in a struggle to weaken their hold over him.


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Mohun Biswas has spent his 46 years of life striving for independence. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning of his father, he yearns for a place he can call home. He marries into the Tulsi family, on whom he becomes dependent, but rebels and takes on a succession of occupations in a struggle to weaken their hold over him.

30 review for A House for Mr Biswas

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This one might make you pull your hair out. So if you're already bald you may need to read it wearing a wig. Also, you need a magnifying glass to find the plot. I had to take samples & send them off to a lab. Apparently there are detectable traces of story in here. But not so's you'd notice. No. The whole thing is a slow, ponderous crawl through the life of a Mr Third World Nobody who gets married by accident and appears to have four kids also by accident, without having any sex as far as I could This one might make you pull your hair out. So if you're already bald you may need to read it wearing a wig. Also, you need a magnifying glass to find the plot. I had to take samples & send them off to a lab. Apparently there are detectable traces of story in here. But not so's you'd notice. No. The whole thing is a slow, ponderous crawl through the life of a Mr Third World Nobody who gets married by accident and appears to have four kids also by accident, without having any sex as far as I could see. Probably just pushed a specimen jar towards his wife every year or so, in between asking for the piccalilly and complaining about the declining quality of secondhand furniture. Ugh. The many pages of this book describe the awkward dealings Mr Biswas has with his in-laws and how he hates his various jobs. And pretty much nearly everything else. But. All this is made bearable by V S Naipaul's lovely fluent prose which on more than one occasion lifts the mundane details into the heights of the sublime. Ah! Ain't no must-read, but when you drag your ass to the end you get to have a brief glint of self-satisfaction. Four stars, but through really gritted teeth.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A life, from start to finish. This is a book for adults--people who have struggled continually to figure out how to live their lives, people who have dealt with the opposing forces of obligation to family and the desire for independence. It's not a page-turner--and I admire that. There are satisfactions to be found in reading besides wanting to know what happens--the ever-changing balance of power in families; the slight accidents that change lives forever; the mulled-over decisions which change A life, from start to finish. This is a book for adults--people who have struggled continually to figure out how to live their lives, people who have dealt with the opposing forces of obligation to family and the desire for independence. It's not a page-turner--and I admire that. There are satisfactions to be found in reading besides wanting to know what happens--the ever-changing balance of power in families; the slight accidents that change lives forever; the mulled-over decisions which change lives very little; the hard-won tiny victories; the slight ratcheting up and down of expectations. This is a crazy thing to say, but if I was responsible for teaching an alien what it is to be human, what it felt like to move through life as a human, I might give it this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Somehow I was biased against V.S. Naipaul without any reason so I eschewed reading his books. But at last, aware of my hollow prejudice, I made myself read A House for Mr Biswas and the novel was above all my expectations. “Here and there Mr. Maclean’s roof leaked; that added to the cosiness of shelter. Water fell from the corrugations in evenly-spaced streams, enclosing the house. Water flowed down the sloping land below the roof; the pellets of dirt had long disappeared. Water gouged out tortuo Somehow I was biased against V.S. Naipaul without any reason so I eschewed reading his books. But at last, aware of my hollow prejudice, I made myself read A House for Mr Biswas and the novel was above all my expectations. “Here and there Mr. Maclean’s roof leaked; that added to the cosiness of shelter. Water fell from the corrugations in evenly-spaced streams, enclosing the house. Water flowed down the sloping land below the roof; the pellets of dirt had long disappeared. Water gouged out tortuous channels as it forced its way down to the road and down to the hollow before the barracks. And the rain continued to roar, and the roof resounded. For several seconds at a time lightning lit up a shining chaotic world. Fresh mud flowed off Tarzan’s grave in a thin regular stream. Raindrops glittered as they struck the sodden ground. Then the thunder came, grating and close. Anand thought of a monstrous steam-roller breaking through the sky. The lightning was exciting but it made him feel peculiar. That, and the thunder, sent him back to the bedroom.” The novel is very lavish in words, emotions, colours and subtle observations. “How ridiculous were the attentions the weak paid one another in the shadow of the strong”. A House for Mr Biswas is a meticulous analysis of human weakness… Mr Biswas rebels but he is scared of his own rebellion. Mr Biswas has tremendous ambitions but he is too afraid to fulfill them. Mr Biswas has very high hopes but he is too weak to realize them. He thinks that he fights for a better life but he just fights windmills. His life is nothing but struggle and then he dies. But his children turned out to be his real wealth.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Only pick this book up if you wish to slog through more than 600 pages filled with the bickering, moans and wailing of a large Indo-Trinidadian family. A Nobel Prize winner that disappoints. The plot is minimal, and the humor not to my taste. It bored me to such an extent that I have no desire to more fully explain. When a book is this boring there is just nothing to say. After 144 pages: On the back cover Newsweek and Anthony Burgess speak of the book's "comic insight and power". What are they Only pick this book up if you wish to slog through more than 600 pages filled with the bickering, moans and wailing of a large Indo-Trinidadian family. A Nobel Prize winner that disappoints. The plot is minimal, and the humor not to my taste. It bored me to such an extent that I have no desire to more fully explain. When a book is this boring there is just nothing to say. After 144 pages: On the back cover Newsweek and Anthony Burgess speak of the book's "comic insight and power". What are they talking about?! There is a family where everyone is complaining and picking on each other. I don't see the humor at all. What I have learned about Trinidad and Tobago culture is minimal. Should I persevere? Is this one of those books you are supposed to like, so no one admits it's bad? Completed April 16, 2013

  5. 5 out of 5

    Praj

    There it is, a modest roofed structure in Sikkim Street standing tall amid the perfumed beds of anthurium lilies. New memories of wet earth after the rain, freshly painted picket fences, the sweet flowers of laburnum tree, mixed aromas flouncing through the warm rooms and wind whiffing through the trees telescoping the painful past. A sense of belonging cherished with merited identity-Mr. Mohun Biswas’s house. I shy away from the postcolonial contemporary third world fiction. Most of them overwhe There it is, a modest roofed structure in Sikkim Street standing tall amid the perfumed beds of anthurium lilies. New memories of wet earth after the rain, freshly painted picket fences, the sweet flowers of laburnum tree, mixed aromas flouncing through the warm rooms and wind whiffing through the trees telescoping the painful past. A sense of belonging cherished with merited identity-Mr. Mohun Biswas’s house. I shy away from the postcolonial contemporary third world fiction. Most of them overwhelm me enlightening the crude aspects of economic claustrophobia which my snobbish approach thoughtlessly overlooks. Keeping in mind this criterion, I cautiously pick out the respected genre books anticipating a satisfying comprehension. Naipaul pens a coherent depiction of impoverished dwelling lost between self-identity and rigid ambitions. It is an exasperating yet rewarding life of a simple man who survives the nightmarish surrealism of being born at the devilish midnight hour. Meet Mohun Biswas, the youngest son of a pitiable sugar-cane labourer whose birth was cursed upon by superstitious omen and was destined to be a ruinous disappointment. Mohun’s life churns out be a metaphoric banner for destitution and misfortune. Blamed for his father’s death and the dissolution of the Biswas family, he struggles through every twisted fate of his life trying to find a speck of self-respect, contentment and independence. His marriage in the celebrated Tulsis family is burdensome and intoxicated with him being a mere accessory in his wife’s home. Dutifully carrying on with the mundane obligations, he berates his sympathetic existence. The only shining beacon of hope is a far-fetched dream of buying a house he can call his own. The notion of acquiring an abode becomes an eternal symbol of Mohun’s own existence as a journalist, a father, a husband and moreover a liberated individual. Naipaul’s vastly elucidated and slow-paced prose underlines quite a few post- colonization inadequacies prevalent in several third world settings till date. Poverty, illiteracy birthing preposterous superstitious dogma, ethnic categorization of class superiority (restricted only to rural infrastructures) and tribulations of pecuniary discrepancies outwitting social hysteria. Mohun’s tale is heroic in its own humble way. All the man wants in his life is a cozy dwelling without the fear of acerbic prejudices. Some would ridicule on this psychological aspect of obtaining a house. It’s a house, for crying out loud! Why make a big deal of it? For an individual who not only thrives in poverty but is tossed among bizarre quarters of underprivileged hardships; the belief of owning a house becomes deeply satisfying, somewhat a battle in itself. Hear, Hear! To Mohun for making peace with his maddening ordinary living.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben Thurley

    A hugely enjoyable, though simultaneously excruciating, novel. Naipaul has created a character in Mohun Biswas who is, at once, deeply unsympathetic – prone to minor spites, absurd self-regard, and the petty enactment of drawn-out and demeaning grudges against those nearest to him – but whose struggle to assert his independence, identity and worth against the odds (even against the fate outlined for him at birth) is utterly compelling. The descriptions of family life, of community, and of the na A hugely enjoyable, though simultaneously excruciating, novel. Naipaul has created a character in Mohun Biswas who is, at once, deeply unsympathetic – prone to minor spites, absurd self-regard, and the petty enactment of drawn-out and demeaning grudges against those nearest to him – but whose struggle to assert his independence, identity and worth against the odds (even against the fate outlined for him at birth) is utterly compelling. The descriptions of family life, of community, and of the natural and social landscape of mid-twentieth Trinidad are lush and gloriously sensual. There are sentences to die for, and passages of haunting beauty. The glorious, terrible, hilarious and tragic conflict of order and chaos, stability and subversion, in the Tulsi family (into which Mr Biswas marries and against whom he constantly rails) is richly depicted. Naipaul combines acute psychological observation and a satirical social and political sensibility to tell, beautifully, a simple human story.

  7. 5 out of 5

    WILLIAM2

    Fun fact touching on both V.S. Naipaul and the James Bond movies. Did you know that A House for Mr. Biswas was once in production as a Broadway musical? The following quote is from the obituary of songwriter John Barry, The New York Times, 2 Feb. 2011:The origins of the James Bond theme are disputed. Mr. Norman [Barry's biographer] said that Barry brushed off a musical passage from “Bad Sign, Good Sign,” a song he had written for a musical version of the V. S. Naipaul novel A House for Mr. Biswa Fun fact touching on both V.S. Naipaul and the James Bond movies. Did you know that A House for Mr. Biswas was once in production as a Broadway musical? The following quote is from the obituary of songwriter John Barry, The New York Times, 2 Feb. 2011:The origins of the James Bond theme are disputed. Mr. Norman [Barry's biographer] said that Barry brushed off a musical passage from “Bad Sign, Good Sign,” a song he had written for a musical version of the V. S. Naipaul novel A House for Mr. Biswas. With a few adjustments, it became the theme to Dr. No, [the film that launched the James Bond series]. Surreal...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chad Bearden

    "Biswas" is my kind of novel. Some complain that it is a bit meandering and aimless, and this is true to an extent. But what the book aims to accomplish (I suspect) is not to give the reader some nice and tidy story with a beginning, middle, and end. Naipaul is aiming for something far more epic: to describe a man's life. He literally starts with Biswas's birth and tracks this willful, sad, cocky man's life all the way to his death. The fact that Biswas's life is full of the mundane does not mak "Biswas" is my kind of novel. Some complain that it is a bit meandering and aimless, and this is true to an extent. But what the book aims to accomplish (I suspect) is not to give the reader some nice and tidy story with a beginning, middle, and end. Naipaul is aiming for something far more epic: to describe a man's life. He literally starts with Biswas's birth and tracks this willful, sad, cocky man's life all the way to his death. The fact that Biswas's life is full of the mundane does not make the book any less amazing or enjoyable. In fact, at one point in the novel, Biswas tries his hand at writing short stories, and all of his attempts are empty wish-fulfillent tales that ring hollow and leave their author quite disatisfied. He is frustrated and put-upon and driven practically crazy by his in-laws, but his life is far more complex and intersting than the ones he tries to fabricate in his stories. And this is what impresses me about Naipaul's work. He takes an ordinary, sometimes riduculous man, and makes him an unknowing hero in his own life. Biswas's life would not be nearly as satisfying to learn about if it were not draped in the lush language of V.S. Naipaul, who coaxes high drama and sincere emotion from his character's ramblingly ordinary life. Though the story takes place in Trinidad among a mostly Indian community, Naipaul makes Biswas imminently relatable as he deals with crises universal to everyone, including the death of parents, sibling rivalries, awkwardly courting the woman you hardly know, abrupt and unexpected career changes, breaking ties with the past to set off on your own, the joys and heartbreaks of children, and ultimately, the simple act of trying to find a house of his own. Mingled amidst all of this banal drama are the rather exotic (to me anyway) cultural norms of Hinduism and Indian society, both of which Biswas constantly resists. I was impressed that, though some of his struggles are so foreign, I could relate to every little incident he experiences. Overall, this read like and Indian John Updike novel: the story of a flawed protaganist who doesn't realize how big of a jackass he is, who by the end of the work you find yourself rooting for nonetheless as he finds small successes in an otherwise ridiculous life. To people who are in love with language, I can't recommend this work highly enough.

  9. 4 out of 5

    K. Elizabeth

    2 stars I read this for school ... and sometimes I get lucky and actually like the book that's assigned, however, not so much with this one. It was extremely random throughout the entirety of the book - and there was nothing I really liked when I think about it. Overall, I'm pretty glad to be done with it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Quo

    I once read a novel where the main character was said to have been shipwrecked even before he had a ship. V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas introduces the reader to Mohan Biswas, someone who seems in a state of perpetual homelessness, even when he has a home. Most of the places where Mr. Biswas (called this from birth) takes shelter are presided over by in-laws, but through the years he does make several attempts at securing a home, with each house ending in shambles, forcing Biswas to again I once read a novel where the main character was said to have been shipwrecked even before he had a ship. V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas introduces the reader to Mohan Biswas, someone who seems in a state of perpetual homelessness, even when he has a home. Most of the places where Mr. Biswas (called this from birth) takes shelter are presided over by in-laws, but through the years he does make several attempts at securing a home, with each house ending in shambles, forcing Biswas to again seek refuge elsewhere. Such is the life of an Indian boy with an upper-caste Brahmin background born under ill omens, a 6-fingered breach baby afflicted with eczema, scabs & malnutrition, destined to be a wanderer for 35 years of his fairly brief life in Trinidad. A House for Mr. Biswas is a tale of a dysfunctional family, in fact several of them, largely situated at the wealthy Mrs. Tulsi's "Hanuman House", named after the Indian monkey god & the large building is occupied by fractious extended family members in search of space to live, if not to thrive. Two of Mrs. Tulsi's male children are referred to as "the gods" but seen as monkeys by Biswas & others, putting his family always at odds with the family of his in-laws. Mr. Biswas' father's family had been brought from India to Trinidad but never felt settled on the Caribbean island, a rootlessness that is perpetuated by Biswas. When Biswas takes a wife, it causes him to feel that the marriage was by way of a misunderstanding & a certain distinct shyness or language insufficiency on his part, with Mrs. Tulsi, the proprietor of Hanuman House acting as marriage broker for her daughter Shama. This is one of many instances where Biswas feels less than in charge of his destiny, harboring misgivings for his lot in life. The feeling is quite mutual & when Biswas buys an expensive doll's house for his daughter Savi, his wife destroys it in a fit of anger, just another example of housing impermanence. There is a muddle of names in the Naipaul novel & without a scorecard, so to speak, it is difficult to keep track of their relationship to each other. Beyond that, the timeframe is not clear early on, until eventually it becomes apparent that WWII shortages have further isolated the people of Trinidad. There are darker-skinned people as well on the island, one known for its diversity but Naipaul's narrative takes little note of them, until one is enlisted to build a house for Mr. Biswas. I also missed the aromas & textures that I sense are characteristic of Trinidad. Almost every detail is focused on the life of the Biswas family, causing me to feel that the setting could have been almost anywhere, rather than on the vibrant, multi-ethnic island of Trinidad, at that point still a British colony. That said, there is an interesting point made about many within Trinidad's Indian population converting to Christianity, in part because they desire an end to the caste system and aspire to greater sexual equality, with perhaps a greater influence of western culture than would have been likely in India, the isolation from Indian traditions contributing to this. Biswas always was said to have yearned for the outside world & eagerly read novels that took him there. In fact, a curious aspect of Naipaul's novel is the importance of books within the mindset of Mr. Biswas. The Roman-Catholic wife of a small sugar estate owner gives Biswas copies of Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and The Discourses of Epictetus, books that loom large in his life. There also are many references to British or Anglo-Trinidadian school books, including Nelson's West Indian Arithmetics, Nelson's West Indian Geography, Collins Clear Type Shakespeare and Bell's Standard Elocutionist. These books elevate a boy with few natural opportunities a wrung or more above what might have been his station in life, though Biswas continuously bristles against his lack of meaningful options in life. Among his woes are a wife he doesn't relate to, 4 children, houses Biswas endeavored to make his own rendered incomplete due to lack of funds, ravaged by nature, bad timing & even some resentful neighbors.He was oppressed by a sense of loss: not of present loss but of something missed in the past. He was beset by alien growths, alien affections, which fed on him & called him away from that part of him which yet remained purely himself, that part which had for long been submerged. What had happened was locked away in time. But it was an error, not a part of truth. He felt exposed & vulnerable. He reflected on the unreality of his life & wished to make a mark on the wall as proof of his existence.But there is something of Sisyphus in Mr. Biswas, as he does not relent & keeps searching for an outlet. By chance, work as a sign painter leads to a position as a newspaper columnist when the editor comes to see that Biswas has hidden talent in spite of a weak resume. This leads to an increase in status as well as pay & the purchase of a car to replace the decrepit Enfield bike he has used for transport. Journalism becomes an outlet & later a typewriter causes him to aim at becoming an author. His columns are irregular in tone & occasionally bombastic, causing Biswas to be seen as both a wit & a madman. Initially, the Naipaul novel seemed less than a "page-turner", being quite a struggle for me. Words & syntax often seemed irregular or oddly phrased. More importantly none of the characters seemed to have ennobling qualities, each appearing rather stiff & lacking warmth. This is however a 550+ page work and in time & with effort on the part of this reader, it seemed to come together and even to have humorous touches, justifying its status as a classic novel, perhaps the best attempt at fiction by V.S. Naipaul, a Nobel laureate. I gradually settled in to a greater appreciation of Mr. Biswas & his family, particularly when, at long last, near novel's end our namesake character finally purchases a more lasting house for himself & his family, a tall & square house on Sikkim Street. Yes, it was a rather quixotic & financially unstable purchase but it brought the family together & helped to blot out the memory of the past harshness of their reality.The mind, while it is sound, is merciful. And rapidly the memories of Hanuman House, the Chase, Green Vale, Shorthills, the Tulsi house in Port of Spain would become jumbled, blurred; events would be telescoped, many forgotten. Occasionally, a nerve of memory would be touched--a puddle reflecting the blue sky after rain, a pack of tumbled cards, the fumbling with a shoelace, the smell of a new car, the sound of a stiff wind through the trees, the scent & colors of a toy shop, the taste of milk & prunes--and a fragment of forgotten experience would be dislodged, isolated, puzzling. In a time of new separations & yearnings, in a library grown suddenly dark, the hailstones beating against the windows, the marbled endpaper of a dusty leather-bound book would disturb & it would be the week before Christmas in the Tulsi Store. Later & very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place & give back the past.A House for Mr. Biswas is not a novel that will please every reader but the prose is at times wondrous, especially in the last 1/3 of the book. The novel is monumental not in broad scope but in slowly-evolving details of a particular kind of common man in Trinidad who possesses uncommon attributes, living amidst a displaced people not quite divorced from their Indian roots, speaking English & Hindi alternately, still under the British colonial flag in a Caribbean land. While I enjoyed Naipaul's A Bend in the River more, it may have been because I felt a greater sense of place with that novel's setting in Africa, not far from where I once lived. So, 4 stars+ for Mr. Biswas & Mr. Naipaul, with the novel especially recommended for readers who can manage not to be distracted by the details of the late author's personal life. *In my Everyman's Library edition of the Naipaul novel, there is an excellent introduction by Karl Miller. **I also read a well-researched biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French,The World Is What It Is.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This novel provides a detailed account of the life of Mr Biswas from birth to death. It takes place in the East Indian community living on the island of Trinidad during the first half of the twentieth century. Biswas is described as a hapless individual prone to irrational optimism who seems doomed to experience bad luck — much of it caused by his own mistakes. The overarching story is a sad mixture of repeated failures and barely visible success. One view of the story is to see it as a life of This novel provides a detailed account of the life of Mr Biswas from birth to death. It takes place in the East Indian community living on the island of Trinidad during the first half of the twentieth century. Biswas is described as a hapless individual prone to irrational optimism who seems doomed to experience bad luck — much of it caused by his own mistakes. The overarching story is a sad mixture of repeated failures and barely visible success. One view of the story is to see it as a life of futile strife ending in premature death at age 46. But a second look reveals some successes such as providing an education for his children, two of whom obtain college degrees. Also his unsatisfying marriage reaches a quiescent acceptance by the end of his life. And after a life of trying and failing to own a house of his own, finally in the end he managed to own a house which unfortunately had problems and in many ways was a bad bargain. Mr Biswas married into the Tulsi family, an extended family of multiple brothers, sisters and inlaws. The family had much wealth but through the course of time their fortunes seem to be dwindling through internal family divisions and mismanagement. Most of the time Mr Biswas believes that his becoming involved with the Tulsi family is the cause of his misfortune, but in reality they kept his family fed during times when his health and fortunes were at a low ebb. The book provides a detailed description of a unique time and place — the expatriate Indian community in colonial Trinidad. It describes spousal and family relations that includes beatings and abuse which I have to assume is a realistic depiction of life as the author had experienced it growing up in Trinidad. Nevertheless I found it disturbing how it seemed so widely practiced and expected. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked A House for Mr Biswas number 72 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English language Novels from 1923 to 2005." The author, V.S. Naipaul, won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature. The following is from PageADay's "1000 Books to Read Before You Die Calendar" for January 29, 2020: As any reader of V.S. Naipaul's work knows, the 2001 Nobel laureate did not suffer fools gladly. The protagonist of A House for Mr Biswas is, as far as fools go, the exception that proves the Naipaul rule. Mr. Biswas's foolishness is portrayed with such fondness for the persistence of private aspirations in the face of the vicissitudes of making ends meet that he assumes in the end a dignity out of all proportion to his achievement. Infused with a simple man's wish to make a home for himself in this homeless world, Naipaul's masterpiece teems with complicated life.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Whitaker

    There’s something about owning a property that taps deep into our psyche. That feeling of calling four walls and a roof your very own speaks to a sense, not just of ownership, but of belonging. The first time I bought an apartment and walked into it, decorated to my own taste, there was an atavistic sense of laying claim to some intangible sense of “me”. It is this search for a sense of identity and belonging that underpins Naipaul’s story of Mohun Biswas. Because his search for a house to call There’s something about owning a property that taps deep into our psyche. That feeling of calling four walls and a roof your very own speaks to a sense, not just of ownership, but of belonging. The first time I bought an apartment and walked into it, decorated to my own taste, there was an atavistic sense of laying claim to some intangible sense of “me”. It is this search for a sense of identity and belonging that underpins Naipaul’s story of Mohun Biswas. Because his search for a house to call his own is not simply a search for a place to stay. After all, until he finds a house for himself and his wife and children, Biswas lives either with his wife’s sprawling extended family or on their generosity, merely a cog expected to fit uncomplainingly into their communal life. His search for a house is ultimately part of a much larger search to establish his selfhood, struggling to delineate himself apart from the larger identity of the family that he is born into and then of the family that he marries into. This struggle for a selfhood is complicated by the lack of a coherent culture, his own splintered by being a child of Indian immigrants on a British colony off the coast of South America and far away from both motherlands. Indeed, it was this part of Naipaul’s novel that had the greatest resonance for me. Biswas is a hodge-podge of cultures: an Indian in a land far away from India growing up speaking English and reading works like Epiticus and Marcus Aurelius while also flirting with Indian Aryanism and carrying out pujas with little real belief in them, neither Indian nor English and belonging to no real part of the world. Biswas’s deracination is echoed in his inability to feel part of his own family as his inauspicious astrology chart causes his father to keep him at a distance right from his birth nor to feel part of his wife’s family, where he is regarded as part interloper for his refusal to knuckle down to accept his subordinate status in the family hierarchy. It is also echoed in his constant struggles against and rejection of the cruel-kind communal structure of the Indian family—stiflingly oppressive and protective—that is so much a part of the Indian culture that he is born into. While there is no journey in the sense of a road trip or a quest, Mohun Biswas does indeed journey both physically and emotionally in this novel, each stop on his own private Via Dolorosa or Odyssey marked by a different habitation until he does finally in a bittersweet triumph find a house to call his own. It is a remarkable journey that Naipaul describes here, the hardscrabble life of a poor boy lifting himself up by his bootstraps trying to make sense of the world he finds himself in with almost no help or guidance but his own stubborn determination to carve out his own hard won piece of territory.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cbj

    It is a painful book to read because a lot of the things Naipaul has written about has happened in your own family or household. Or on your street. It is so brutal that you wonder how Naipaul could write about his own father and his childhood with such vicious humor that almost seems to border on cruelty. There is no magic realism. It is a book about a terribly wounded and helpless people which on the surface seems to be told bereft of any sympathy. Naipaul does not romanticize the lives of the It is a painful book to read because a lot of the things Naipaul has written about has happened in your own family or household. Or on your street. It is so brutal that you wonder how Naipaul could write about his own father and his childhood with such vicious humor that almost seems to border on cruelty. There is no magic realism. It is a book about a terribly wounded and helpless people which on the surface seems to be told bereft of any sympathy. Naipaul does not romanticize the lives of the Indian poor and helpless. As he himself said, he is only interested in serving literature and not the human race. The book is about a lot of things - a Hindu upbringing, life in a Hindu joint family, the post-colonial experience ..... but for me it was mostly a book about a flawed, helpless and weak people. The Hindu family in A House For Mr Biswas is almost like a country with its internal power struggles and upheavals. The weak are perpetually pitted against each other and are constantly reminded by the strong that they are weak every time they try to raise their heads even a little bit. His life in this cruel joint Hindu family might have shaped much of Naipaul's worldview. I read an interview with Naipaul in which he said that he was very good at perceiving a persons flaws right from the time of his childhood. It is not a pleasant book to read. There is a lot of cruelty (a cruelty which has no meaning and is a way of life itself, as Naipaul wrote in A Wounded Civilization). You will find yourself hating the characters - the men are mostly cowards, the women are beaten and their hands smell of the vegetables that they just chopped up. I actually lost interest in the novel many times over the one month when I was reading it because a lot of it is about the pettiness and stupidity of the characters. But there is so much in it to appreciate - the description of the gradual dereliction of the estate occupied by the Tulsis, the account of Anand attending the exhibition exams, the Biswas' holiday at the beach house and the hilariously stupid acts of the characters which seem to generate positive consequences while rational actions often seem to lead to unfavorable developments. A lot of people hate Naipaul, but the more I read his books, the more I feel like he is the only Indian writer who writes the terrible and horrifying truth about the Indian experience. Naipaul lays it all out in the open. Despite the cruel humor and severity of his portrayals, he is not a man who insists on a particular way of life. As he wrote in Magic Seeds - “It is wrong to have an ideal view of the world. That's where the mischief starts. That's where everything starts unravelling...”.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sonia Gomes

    All that Mr. Biswas wants is respect, not money, not love, not recognition just respect…… Born in Trinidad in a poor home he is tricked into marrying Shama Tulsi daughter of the well known, very rich Tulsi House, all because he had had the temerity to write ‘I love you’ on a scrap of paper and hand it over to her. Although warned by many he persists in marrying her. Everyone knows that the Tulsis are on lookout for drones for their daughters, once married the husbands become their property. They All that Mr. Biswas wants is respect, not money, not love, not recognition just respect…… Born in Trinidad in a poor home he is tricked into marrying Shama Tulsi daughter of the well known, very rich Tulsi House, all because he had had the temerity to write ‘I love you’ on a scrap of paper and hand it over to her. Although warned by many he persists in marrying her. Everyone knows that the Tulsis are on lookout for drones for their daughters, once married the husbands become their property. They live with the Tulsis, eat what food is doled out to them, work on the Tulsi farms and holdings, scraping out an existence as the Tulsi ‘sons-in-law’. Strangely Shama Tulsi never protests, never feels that her husband and children could be treated better, on the contrary she is of the firm belief that she and Mr. Biswas should be eternally grateful to Mai and her brothers. ‘Remember’ she says, ‘You came with just the clothes on your back’ How Mr. Biswas longs to get rid of these shackles of charity and gratitude. He throws tantrums, he flings his food out of the window, he insults Shama and her family, he stops having sex with her, feels terribly lonely, ends up having four children. He builds a small, cheap house but at the first heavy shower the roof is blown away, Mr. Biswas suffers a nervous breakdown and is promptly yanked by Shama to the Tulsi House to recover with cups of Ovaltine. He builds a decent career as a journalist, but is relegated to the post of a lowly reporter once the Editor goes away. The little grocery shop they had opened goes bust as Mr. Biswas is unable to collect the credit he had so generously given his customers. All through these abysmal failures the Tulsis treat Mr. Biswas as one would a recalcitrant child, nothing more, laughing indulgently at his tantrums. And all the time Mr. Biswas realises that he has not even made a little dent on the Tulsi composure. In desperation, Mr. Biswas does acquire a little, badly constructed house and he lives for the first time in his life away from the Tulsis, although Shama can never sever the umbilical chord. Strangely, although Mr. Biswas’ life seems one of constant failures and misery, it just does not appear to be so. Reading through Mr. Biswas’ life, you get the feeling this has echoes of your life too…….I have done that, maybe I should have done that……. It is everyone’s life But the overwhelming feeling is that charity enslaves you, charity chokes you. The Donor will always want you to be grateful, and grateful, and grateful, never for a moment will he let go of you until he has extracted every ounce of gratitude from you and never ever will you be respected for having taken that charity in the first place.

  15. 4 out of 5

    BookMonkey

    Rating: 5🍌 After the emancipation of slaves in Trinidad in 1835, the British had a labor problem. The solution was to import thousands of indentured servants from other colonies, and throughout the 19th century thousands of men and women from India traveled to the West Indies to work as unofficial slaves in the British colony. These laborers formed their own communities and social structure distinct from their homeland of India; today, more than a third of Trinidad and Tobago identify as Indian d Rating: 5🍌 After the emancipation of slaves in Trinidad in 1835, the British had a labor problem. The solution was to import thousands of indentured servants from other colonies, and throughout the 19th century thousands of men and women from India traveled to the West Indies to work as unofficial slaves in the British colony. These laborers formed their own communities and social structure distinct from their homeland of India; today, more than a third of Trinidad and Tobago identify as Indian descent. Nobel Prize-winning author VS Naipaul grew up in one such Trinidadian Indian community, and it forms the basis for his brilliant satirical novel A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS. At turns comic, frustrating, and poignant, A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS explores the colonial experience through the travails of one Mohun Biswas, a questionable-decision-making, petulant, optimistic striver who simply wants a place he can call his own. The novel is Dickensian in scope, tracing Mr. Biswas's life from birth through death. Born under inauspicious circumstances, Mr. Biswas soon moves into the large household of wealthy relatives; later, he marries into another large wealthy household and then spends the rest of his life devoted to petty squabbles with extended relatives and perpetual efforts to improve his lot through the accumulation of things. We follow him as he raises children, takes on various professions -- sign painter, shopkeeper, journalist -- and moves from one property he doesn't own to another. Unlike Dickens, though, there is no conventional happy ending available to Mr. Biswas in colonial Trinidad. A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS is, first and foremost, a pleasure to read: Naipaul is one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century, and his writing sparkles with humor and pathos as he describes Mr. Biswas's schemes to elevate himself in the household pecking order and illustrates the misunderstandings between characters from different cultures. But the novel is most notable for its analysis of the colonial experience, encapsulated by Mr. Biswas's attempts to obtain his own house -- in itself a metaphor for his search for belonging in a Trinidad torn between cultures and histories. When imagining his future life, Mr. Biswas (and other Trinidadian Indians) time and again can only imagine it through the lens provided by British grammar books, novels, and poems. In one memorable section, Mr. Biswas, determined to become a journalist, sends away for a correspondence course from a British school, and then struggles to follow the tips suggesting that he begin by writing simple articles about universal things everybody will recognize: the blazing fire in the depths of winter; the colors and mist of autumn; the crowded trains to the seaside. None of which, of course, exist in Biswas's Trinidad. The novel's treatment of Trinidadian Indians is complex. Despite being a colonial subject, Naipaul was a noted Anglophile, and his British-influenced opinion of where he came from leaks through in the text: not infrequently Naipaul seems to be lampooning the colonized in the same way that coastal liberals caricature those who live in the flyover states. Yet Naipaul tempers this with a real tenderness, and there's something heartbreaking about the way the novel's characters strive for British markers of sophistication and success without quite understanding them or realizing they will always be out of their reach. This theme fully manifests in the later chapters when Mr. Biswas finally does buy his own home only to find he's been hoodwinked and is now saddled with a lifetime of insurmountable debt (cynically, the moment he'd finally entered the "first world"). And bittersweet as it is, this is the perfect ending to this nuanced, beautiful novel. For while Mr. Biswas may ultimately find a house, he never finds a home.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    3.5. I expected more. While I'm certain the novel is deeper than I read, it's difficult to fault one for being so distracted by the protagonist Mr. Biswas' narrative voice, which is undoubtedly one of the most annoying, cringe-inducing in all of literature. Think: "Coffee Talk" with special guests, Fran Drescher and Sponge Bob Squarepants. 3.5. I expected more. While I'm certain the novel is deeper than I read, it's difficult to fault one for being so distracted by the protagonist Mr. Biswas' narrative voice, which is undoubtedly one of the most annoying, cringe-inducing in all of literature. Think: "Coffee Talk" with special guests, Fran Drescher and Sponge Bob Squarepants.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katia N

    t is a wonderful book: unsentimental, moving, existential and visual. Gorgeous writing. It is amazing that someone could write such a novel aged 28. It is dubbed as “darkly comic”. But i did not feel it comic at all - melancholic, sometimes angry - yes. It is about a life of a man, Mr Biswas, trapped in the web of a large, matriarchal and very tightly controlled family which he does not seem to have a will to leave. It is about the life passing by, unnoticed; about small daily struggles which oc t is a wonderful book: unsentimental, moving, existential and visual. Gorgeous writing. It is amazing that someone could write such a novel aged 28. It is dubbed as “darkly comic”. But i did not feel it comic at all - melancholic, sometimes angry - yes. It is about a life of a man, Mr Biswas, trapped in the web of a large, matriarchal and very tightly controlled family which he does not seem to have a will to leave. It is about the life passing by, unnoticed; about small daily struggles which occasionally grow into something existential; and about the eternal question what one leaves behind when the life is over. Mr Biswas’s character is hardly likable; his occasional spouts of revolt look more like tantrums; his total inability to express love (assuming he feels it) comes across as pathetic. But somehow, by the end of the novel I felt I understood him better. During my childhood in the post-Soviet Ukraine I used to know men, belonging to the generation of my parents, who felt totally trapped within the families of their wives, who hated their position and dreamed about other life, but were not able to change anything. In their cases, they usually ended up drinking heavily. In this novel, Mr Biswas is arguably wiser. The novel is long, but I never felt it. It flows, and sometimes I was catching myself that i could not find the place to stop turning the pages. However, it splits into two parts. The first one is a fine example of realism about Mr Biswas early life and the Tulsi family he is married into. (I felt the family organisation bear an uncanny resemblance to a beehive but in a more sinister way.) The atmosphere of the family’s home is claustrophobic, domestic violence is a common place, the love is replaced by possessiveness. The second part of the novel is very different in a way how it is written. It focuses more on Anand, Mr Biswas only son. And, IMHO, it is the best example of auto-fiction 50 years before Knausgaard and the others made this genre a household name. And Trinidad, unknown to me before is playing bigger role in the second part of the novel: its urban parts, its nature and its villages. Naipaul has got a unique way of describing - he mixes the details of the surroundings with the feelings of his characters. The effect is a mirror of complicated interior turmoil with the exterior out there, very visual, almost like a film. “When he got to Green Vale it was dark. Under the trees it was night. The sounds from the barracks were assertive and isolated one from the other: snatches of talk, the sounds of frying, a shout, the cry of a child: sounds thrown up at the starlit sky from a place that was nowhere, a dot on the map of the island, which was a dot on the map of the world. The dead trees ringed the barracks, a wall of flawless black. He locked himself in his room.” Reading this novel I understood the origins of Naipaul personality with his often mysogynistic attitude to women, his quiet approval of the cast system (at least superior brahmanism), his desire to belong and his lack of loyalty to people who helped him. I would never be able to justify or to approve some of those things, but i can see how they were affected by his childhood and circumstances of his life. It is a very interesting and serious dilemma whether to consume the creative output of a very talented individual, whose views and deeds one does not approve. There is a lot written on the subject, especially recently. I think, it is the subject of a personal choice. And on this occasion, I am sure I will continue reading Naipaul novels. To finish, the words by Joan Didion: “The world Naipaul sees is of course no void at all; it is a world dense with physical and social phenomena, brutally alive with the complications and contradictions of actual human endeavour."  Quotes: Beautiful: "And like all other Christmas at Hanuman house, It had turned out to be only a series of anticipations." "The house faced east, and the memories that remained of these first four years in Port of Spain were above all memories of morning. The newspaper, delivered free, still warm, the ink still wet, sprawled on the concrete steps, down which the sun was moving. Dew lay on tress and roofs; the empty street, freshly swept and washed, was in cool shadow, and water ran clear in the gutters whose green bases had been scratched and striped by the sweepers’ harsh brooms. Memories of taking the Royal Enfield out from under the house and cycling in a sun still cool along the streets of the awakening city. Stillness at noon: stripping for a short nap: the window of his room open: a square of blue above the unmoving curtain…. The promise of the evening; the expectations of the morning." And the ones which are bound to be controversial, unpleasant even, but thought-provoking as well: "It had puzzled him (while reading western novels) leaving in a wife-beating society, he couldn’t understand why woman were even allowed to nag or how nagging could have nay effect. He saw that there were exceptional women, Mrs Tulsi and Tara, for example, who could never be beaten. But most of the women he knew where like Sushi, the widowed Tulsi daughter. She talked with pride of the beatings she had received from her short-lived husband. She regarded them as a necessary part of her training and often attributed the decay of Hindu society in Trinidad to the rise of the timorous weak, non-beating class of husband." "He had known no Indian woman of her age as alert and intelligent and inquiring." "And in one afternoon the family reverence to India had been shattered; Owad disliked all Indians from India. They were disgrace to Trinidad Indians; they were arrogant, sly and lecherous they pronounced English in a peculiar way; they were slow and unintelligent and were given degrees snout of charity… They realised their responsibilities as the last representatives of Hindu culture." The last. I was thinking whether to put it here, but then decided it showed what the man needed to put up with and puts his views some perspective. It is taken from the TLS article this week, “That clever little n—r Naipaul has won another prize”. Waugh 1963

  18. 4 out of 5

    Realini

    A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul is a wonderful book, included in The Modern Library Top 100 books (at : http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/... ) In fact, I had such a great time reading it, that I only ended it after a long delay: I never wanted to part with Mr Biswas, his family and Trinidad Island. As it happens, I identified with the main character. A House for Mr Biswas is a Great Book and an immense joy to read.. I had read A Bend in The River, also by V.S. Naipaul- before A House for A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul is a wonderful book, included in The Modern Library Top 100 books (at : http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/... ) In fact, I had such a great time reading it, that I only ended it after a long delay: I never wanted to part with Mr Biswas, his family and Trinidad Island. As it happens, I identified with the main character. A House for Mr Biswas is a Great Book and an immense joy to read.. I had read A Bend in The River, also by V.S. Naipaul- before A House for Mr Biswas and found it as great a joy to read..

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    "So later, and very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place and give back the past." - Page 557 Found near the very end of the novel, this little gem of a sentence is not only a beautiful and evocative bit of prose in it's own right (which it certainly is), but also seems to me a perfect key to understanding Naipaul's wonderful novel about Mohun Biswas, a most unfortunate man trying to get by in pos "So later, and very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place and give back the past." - Page 557 Found near the very end of the novel, this little gem of a sentence is not only a beautiful and evocative bit of prose in it's own right (which it certainly is), but also seems to me a perfect key to understanding Naipaul's wonderful novel about Mohun Biswas, a most unfortunate man trying to get by in post-colonial Trinidad. On the day of his birth, a pundit (after examining the child) announces to the family of Mr. Biswas that he will be something of a curse to them, and to himself. And for the rest of the book we see this prophecy fulfilled time and time again, as our protagonist endures (and causes) a plethora of comical missteps and devastating tragedies. But, hounded by all this bad luck and pestered from every angle by members of his wife's enormous family (as well as his own children), Mr. Biswas persists in the hope of one day having a house of his own, to be king of his own domain. The book has some unusual pacing to it, sometimes focusing for many pages on a single day, other times covering years in the span of only a few paragraphs. Although a number of the moments or events which are dwelt upon at length are of obvious import in the life of the protagonist, at other points they seem almost arbitrarily selected. But this is no criticism, because I feel it relates back to the quotation above, for the novel seems to me to unfold like a series of memories had by our expiring hero. Memories strung together so as to recapture, as closely as possible, the totality of one man's past. And who can claim to understand the human faculty of remembrance, and what it chooses to cling to? But to end the review there would be to leave without having mentioned the masterful way in which V.S. Naipaul weaves his tapestry of memorable characters, creating a world in such a way that only a novelist of the highest grade could achieve. And the humor (!). There were times (especially in the second half of the novel, when Mr. Biswas begins his stint as a morally bereft newspaper columnist) when I had to set the book aside for a moment from laughing. There's a reason I love Buster Keaton so much - I feel that a great humorist is something to be cherished, and I have a real fondness for anyone that can make me laugh. This novel did that and so much more. I would recommend this to anyone who hasn't read it, and I fully intend to read more from Mr. Naipaul. 4.5 stars

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

    Mohun Biswas story from start to finish is definitely not a page turner. He is a self centered, impulsive man and prone to complaining. His father dies early on through drowning while looking for him. He starts work as a sign writer and ends up marrying Shama and being embroiled in the Tulsi family life. He lives with his wife and her extended family where he is dominated by her mother and sons. It is a toxic environment which psychologically scars him. His one driving desire is to escape the Tu Mohun Biswas story from start to finish is definitely not a page turner. He is a self centered, impulsive man and prone to complaining. His father dies early on through drowning while looking for him. He starts work as a sign writer and ends up marrying Shama and being embroiled in the Tulsi family life. He lives with his wife and her extended family where he is dominated by her mother and sons. It is a toxic environment which psychologically scars him. His one driving desire is to escape the Tulsi family and move into his own house. Ultimately he does and finds you need to be careful what you wish for in life. The house he moves into on the surface looked good. He impulsively buys it without checking the price of other houses in the area or a surveyor to check the overall condition of the house. The intrigues, lies and drudgery of life for a Trinidad Indian is captured in the almost 600 pages of this epic set between 1920-1955 or thereabouts. His four children, job as a journalist and bad luck dog him throughout his life. Happily the author throws in lots of comedic scenes. Worth a read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alok Mishra

    Is it like modern novels? No. Is it entertaining? Not that much. Boring maybe. Has it romance, thrill and 'that thing'? Not at all! Should I read it? Of course! If you are a serious fiction reader looking out for something special after your mundane, one of Naipaul's and Asia's best work is for you! Read it slowly; understand it deep; you hit the jackpot! A writer's grief becomes fodder for your thoughts.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    The novel that marked VS Naipaul’s rise as one of the world’s literary stalwarts, A House for Mr Biswas straddles the years before and after World War II. The eponymous Mr Biswas is named Mohun, and is called either that, or ‘Biswas’, or ‘Man’, or, derisively, ‘crab-catcher’ by those around him, but always referred to—tellingly—by his narrator as ‘Mr Biswas’. As a baby, as a boy, he is still, in Naipaul’s words, Mr Biswas, an indication, perhaps, of Biswas’s lifelong need (only partly and rarely The novel that marked VS Naipaul’s rise as one of the world’s literary stalwarts, A House for Mr Biswas straddles the years before and after World War II. The eponymous Mr Biswas is named Mohun, and is called either that, or ‘Biswas’, or ‘Man’, or, derisively, ‘crab-catcher’ by those around him, but always referred to—tellingly—by his narrator as ‘Mr Biswas’. As a baby, as a boy, he is still, in Naipaul’s words, Mr Biswas, an indication, perhaps, of Biswas’s lifelong need (only partly and rarely fulfilled) to win the respect and envy of those around him, the right to be addressed as a man of some worth. The story follows Mr Biswas, from his birth in a poor village household, to his brief apprenticeship as a pundit, then the varying professions and occupations he goes through: sign painter, shopkeeper, ‘labourer’, reporter, semi-government servant. It follows a callow teenager of a Mr Biswas as he makes a tentative pass at Shama, the daughter of the Tulsis, the vast joint family that inhabits Hanuman House. It takes him into the house as Shama’s bridegroom, soon lost in the ordered chaos of the Tulsi household, trying desperately to keep his head up, learning the politics of the family, building relationships, seeing them disintegrate. Picking quarrels. Becoming, by the time he’s thirty-three, the frustrated father of four children. The theme that runs throughout the book (and which is indicated by its very title) is, of course, that of Mr Biswas’s attempt to buy, build, or rent a house for himself and his family. A house unencumbered by Tulsis, a house of his own. This, though, is just the underlying theme. The story itself is one of relationships: of emotion, jealousy, ambition, even—shining forth now and then and invariably in the unlikeliest of circumstances—love. A House for Mr Biswas is engrossing, sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous (though usually in a bitter, satirical way). It is not, however, a lovable book. Its characters aren't lovable, not even its protagonist. What makes it a memorable book, though, is the overall effect. The way the story moves, the way Naipaul creates a sense of time and space. The characters themselves, who come alive in ways that remind us uncomfortably of our own foibles and idiosyncrasies. The astonishing understanding of human nature and its ability to—sometimes simultaneously—hate and love, respect and despise, aspire for and deride. No, not a lovable book, but certainly an admirable one.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    This book is nothing more or less than the story of one man’s life, with all its quotidian struggles, pains, small victories and ultimate defeats. Like all V.S. Naipaul’s work I read it as subtly autobiographical. And indeed, Mr. Biswas is loosely based on his father Seepersad Naipaul. Seepersad was a poor sign painter from rural Trinidad who, captured by a mix of genius and desperation, rose to become a minor local journalist in Port of Spain. This book captures the inner life of a man trapped This book is nothing more or less than the story of one man’s life, with all its quotidian struggles, pains, small victories and ultimate defeats. Like all V.S. Naipaul’s work I read it as subtly autobiographical. And indeed, Mr. Biswas is loosely based on his father Seepersad Naipaul. Seepersad was a poor sign painter from rural Trinidad who, captured by a mix of genius and desperation, rose to become a minor local journalist in Port of Spain. This book captures the inner life of a man trapped by his own limited circumstances and his wife’s sprawling matriarchal family, which he married into accidentally. I never fully appreciated how suffocating it could be to live around so many relations. For someone like me who lacks Naipaul’s literary gifts, it is difficult to convey how extraordinary his prose is. This is a book that, one could argue, lacks a plot. There is no extravagant drama or denouement. It is the story of a lonely and rootless man, born to a historically-remote island, trying to lay claim to a tiny part of the earth for himself. This isn’t the kind of book that I would normally enjoy, especially spread over nearly 600 pages. Yet due to the authors genius it is an absolutely captivating read. Naipaul had an unrivalled capacity for zeroing in on the beautiful and painful subtleties of the human experience. His writing is grimly hilarious. I found myself unable to suppress laughter on numerous occasions. Scarcely a page goes by without some sublime sentence or paragraph. If the book had gone on forever I would not have felt oppressed by its length. This was the novel that made Naipaul famous as a young man in the 1960s. It was a rare case of merit properly recognized. I find that for all his problematic qualities as a person and in his politics, he really gave people from the developing world an authentic voice. It was an honest, sometimes harsh voice. In this book he condemns Trinidad, but also writes the most moving ode to it that I could imagine. In his descriptions of the sprawling Tulsi family, he vividly expresses his own mixture of respect and disdain for his traditional Hindu Brahmin origins. This was a picture of the stifling world that his father longed to break free from but could never escape. His son succeeded. This book was a catharsis and a pleasure to read. As I’ve said before everyone has to contend with V.S. Naipaul, particularly those of us who feel our origins are mutually intelligible with his. An unforgettable novel.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    This, my first Naipaul, and probably his best, though no more hilarious than Miguel Street. Many of his later books are non-fiction, like Among the Believers, A Tour in the South, or even The Loss of El Dorado. Here, Hanuman House is everybody's nightmare mother-in-law's. The name evokes the Hindu god of war, a common stereotype of the mother-in-law made new in its witty application to the family home. Since Hanuman House holds all the in-laws, including brothers-in-law and Biswas' wife's nieces This, my first Naipaul, and probably his best, though no more hilarious than Miguel Street. Many of his later books are non-fiction, like Among the Believers, A Tour in the South, or even The Loss of El Dorado. Here, Hanuman House is everybody's nightmare mother-in-law's. The name evokes the Hindu god of war, a common stereotype of the mother-in-law made new in its witty application to the family home. Since Hanuman House holds all the in-laws, including brothers-in-law and Biswas' wife's nieces etc., this is the House of War, of family wars. So Biswas, a sign-painter by trade, goes off to make his own house, an inspiring attempt, rather Thoreauvian. Imagine the cottage-buiding chapter in Walden written from a married immigrant in the Carribean. Thoreau captures a flying squirrel which he looses in his cabin, recaptures and eventually releases, calculating the distance and flight path; Biswas lies on his back watching ants cross his ceiling. Biswas' house seems to me not much bigger than Thoreau's little cabin, though Biswas builds a small verandah I think. (I may be confusing the porch with another Caribbean novelist's account, Jean Rhys'.) And Biswas' definitely boasts a tin roof. In fact, Biswas indebts himself to build his modest house, and he encounters both job and health difficulties with age. Early on, Naipaul regales us with the superstitions retailed by pundits in both Hindu and Caribbean culture. Biswas is born at the worst hour, midnight, and has a sixth finger--though it drops off in the first week. The pundit predicts this child will eat his father; for this prediction he is paid handsomely, a florin.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Preeta

    The Trinidadian-English dialogue is just brilliant, and the people are all so tragic and hilarious at the same time, and Mr. Biswas is called Mr. Biswas from the time he is BORN. How can you beat that? Even if you think Naipaul's politics stink, there's no denying this book is a masterpiece.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a cheerfully, depressing, funny, sad, challenging and liberating book. I first read Naipaul in the 1980s, after reading many books by Graham Greene. I was in art college and seduced by English writers that wrote about far off places. The books I read by Naipaul focused on Africa and India, most notably “A Bend in the River.” I really wanted to see India and Africa after reading these books even though the undercurrent of poverty, violence and anxiety ran through his books. In Canada, this This is a cheerfully, depressing, funny, sad, challenging and liberating book. I first read Naipaul in the 1980s, after reading many books by Graham Greene. I was in art college and seduced by English writers that wrote about far off places. The books I read by Naipaul focused on Africa and India, most notably “A Bend in the River.” I really wanted to see India and Africa after reading these books even though the undercurrent of poverty, violence and anxiety ran through his books. In Canada, this seemed exotic and I was very naive. Just recently I read Nelson from Portugal’s fine review and decided to read one of his most famous books. Now, with some thirty years later, it reads much different. Set in his native Trinidad, the book tells the story of the Biswas and Tulsi families. Mr Biswas wants a home for himself, his wife and four children so he can break away from the matriarchal Tulsi family. The everyday challenges follow him throughout his life on his quest to break free. His humour gets him through, his anger brings him down and his creativity keeps him going. The challenges of employment are always overshadowed by the power of the ever increasing Tulsi family, especially Mr Seth and Mrs Tulsi who call the shots. Growing up in a small family of four, I cannot fully grasp the extended family concept with many people all living under one roof. It seems like chaos and privacy is evasive. Sometimes I am at wit’s ends for Mr Biswas’ sake. Published in 1961, one year before Trinidad got its independence, the symbolism of a small country wanting freedom from “mother England” only becomes apparent as one reads along. Reading this book now, that enchantment I had for exotic locations changes to the realization of the effects of colonization. I understand the frustration of Mr Biswas but sometimes I was very frustrated with how he dealt with it. Would I have done any better? I doubt it. The story becomes more pessimistic which leads to the ending. This realism hurts and I am sure that Naipaul was deliberate in this. Like Graham Greene, life tosses a lot at one and endings may not go in the right direction. Not sure I would have gotten this back in my youth. Very glad that I read this book. Possibly a 4.5

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed

    It took me a really long time to finish this book. I am not a fast reader so generally I try to avoid reading novels that are very long. Also it is my personal opinion that some of the detailed and fascinating descriptions of the settings (especially when the story is not moving forward at all) may cause an average reader of today to simply put down a book. Nevertheless, Naipaul is a great writer and his skill is evident throughout this book. This is a story about life and the struggles and event It took me a really long time to finish this book. I am not a fast reader so generally I try to avoid reading novels that are very long. Also it is my personal opinion that some of the detailed and fascinating descriptions of the settings (especially when the story is not moving forward at all) may cause an average reader of today to simply put down a book. Nevertheless, Naipaul is a great writer and his skill is evident throughout this book. This is a story about life and the struggles and events that happens throughout the lifespan of ordinary people like Mr. Biswas. The occurrence of such events is apparently quite subtle and their profound effects sometimes go unnoticed. Therefore the story at times seems to move at a slower pace. Naipaul has beautifully captured all that in this work. The characters in this novel are extremely well thought and crafted with perfection. In short I will give this book 3.5/5 and I definitely recommend this book for its quality of writing and thoughtful content but make sure you have the time and patience to immerse into the reading experience that it requires.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    V S Naipaul's fourth novel is his longest so far. Still mining the Trinidadian Indian Hindu community amid which he grew up, the locations, people, traditions, the Pundits and the strivers, the remnants of the Indian caste system, are all in play. Having read all four books, I swear I feel as though I know these people well. This is a more somber book. Some humor remains but it felt as though Naipaul's affection for his people had waned. The story covers the entire life of Mr Biswas from his birt V S Naipaul's fourth novel is his longest so far. Still mining the Trinidadian Indian Hindu community amid which he grew up, the locations, people, traditions, the Pundits and the strivers, the remnants of the Indian caste system, are all in play. Having read all four books, I swear I feel as though I know these people well. This is a more somber book. Some humor remains but it felt as though Naipaul's affection for his people had waned. The story covers the entire life of Mr Biswas from his birth under a few bad signs to his death. One funny thing is that the author calls him Mr Biswas throughout and rarely uses his first name. Mr Biswas lost his father at a young age and was reared mostly by relatives in varying stages of poverty. He had virtually no self confidence but his lifelong dream was to have a house of his own. He eventually married into a wealthy family, got a job as a newspaper reporter, and had four children. Until the age of forty, he was doomed to live in the houses of his wife's family where he felt belittled. I am puzzled as to why I found the novel so readable. The writing is assured and in a style not quite resembling any other author. Besides immersing the reader in the society and times of Trinidad, including the harbor city Port of Spain, Naipaul brings to life the customs, strivings, and intimate details of these people. He made me feel their absurdities as well as their eternal efforts to rise from the indentured workers who were their ancestors into participation in mid 20th century life by means of education and grasping onto any possible business opportunities. So it is an immigrant story in the long run and that is pretty much THE STORY of the world: people who have come from somewhere else either by choice or because of wars and slavery, intermingling their lives, customs and beliefs with other peoples. It is essentially a sad story and so is the life of Mr Biswas threaded with defeats and humiliations. I kept hoping he would triumph somehow but his accomplishments were miniscule, reminding me that history is actually made up mostly of people living from day to day with hopes that are largely dashed but always harboring those hopes as an incentive to rise above mere survival. A House For Mr Biswas is considered to be Naipaul's breakout book. After this he moved on to writing novels set in Great Britain and around the world. He has won both the Booker Prize and the Nobel along with a reputation bespattered in recent years with charges of misogyny and racism. In the numerous portrayals of beatings of children and wives along with a deep distrust of anyone not Hindu that pepper his early novels, I can see how his influences would make it difficult to achieve any level of "political correctness." Perhaps he has carried Mr Biswas with him throughout his life.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Philippe Malzieu

    Difficult to keep the clear idéees when a book is preceded such a reputation. Sublimate, inevitably sublimates. We can only find that brilliant. Respect. End of history. Can we not like what everyone likes. Can one not hate but find that only well made but not transcendantal. If not it is well written, but I have difficulty to impassioning myself for this history.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Abdul

    My favourite novel to date. For those who are giving this book bad reviews... this might be helpful: I highly doubt that Mr. Naipaul’s primary goal in this book was to entertain or teach anyone about Indo-Trinidadian culture. I have to say, though, there’s plenty to learn in this book about the latter. Primarily, this is the story of one Mohun Biswas, who was born the wrong way and with an extra finger. The childhood of Mr. Biswas was very interesting, especially to someone who’s ever walked to sc My favourite novel to date. For those who are giving this book bad reviews... this might be helpful: I highly doubt that Mr. Naipaul’s primary goal in this book was to entertain or teach anyone about Indo-Trinidadian culture. I have to say, though, there’s plenty to learn in this book about the latter. Primarily, this is the story of one Mohun Biswas, who was born the wrong way and with an extra finger. The childhood of Mr. Biswas was very interesting, especially to someone who’s ever walked to school barefoot, and lived in poor people’s quarters belonging to some rich relatives, and seen his or her siblings sent into laborious, low paying jobs as children, so that they become adults much faster than the average person. This book, I must say, is very keen, totally alert on every page and full of irony and realistic characters. Above all, the book is about Mr. Biswas’s independence, owning a house of his own. For a book of this length, the writer did excellent to stick to his main theme, without ignoring the flesh. Every time a house is mentioned, it is described in great detail, for that’ what Mr. Biswas notices most of the times, this being his main preoccupation. I read it about four years, and will list some memorable moments, either for their comedy, irony, character revelation, social depth, beauty of the process. The book begins with a prologue, (doesn’t rely at all on suspense) as Mr. Biswas’s age of death is revealed, and that he has at last found a house of his own… Ina single paragraph, Naipaul renders foreshadows the entire novel for us. (Pay attention to the prose here) 1. He thought of the house as his own, though for years it had been irretrievably mortgaged. And during these months of illness and despair he was struck again and again by the wonder of being in his own house, the audacity of it: to walk in through his own front gate, to bar entry to whoever he wished, to close his doors and windows every night, to hear no noises except those of his family, to wander freely from room to room and about his yard, instead of being condemned, as before, to retire the moment he got home to the crowded room in one or the other of Mrs. Tulsi’s houses, crowded with Shama’s sisters, their husbands, their children. As a boy he had moved from one house of strangers to another; and since his marriage he felt he had lived nowhere but in the houses of the Tulsis, at Hanuman House in Arwacas, in the decaying wooden house at Shorthills, in the clumsy concrete house in Port of Spain. And now at the end he found himself in his own house, on his own half-lot of land, his own portion of the earth. That he should have been responsible for this seemed to him, in these last months, stupendous. 2. Another scene is when Mr. Biswas, having decided to build his own house on a property owned by his in laws not far from Arwacas, goes to his uncle Ajodha to borrow some money to complete the house. Ajodha welcomes Biswas and throws around a few jokes, even picks a visiting nephew, and immediately after lunch, retires to his bed, telling Mr. Biswas… denying Mr. Biswas the opportunity to ask. It turns out every time Biswas tried to say something about the house, Ajodha would interrupt him at the beginning of the sentence with something unrelated, and only a page or so later, will the reader realize that Ajodha has known what Mr. Biswas came for all along, and interrupting him out. This is revealed by the visiting nephew who says to Biswas as the latter heads to the bus stop. ‘The old man can smell a thing like that before you even think it.’ Read back at Ajodha’s behavior with Biswas, and you get what am saying here. It was genius I thought. 3. Consider how so much can be said about a character in very few words and in uncommon prose, nearly inventive in its execution. For instance, in the early pages, Naipaul writes of Biswas’s niece Suniti… ‘The news that Mr. Biswas was negotiating for a house of his own had gone around Shama’s family. Suniti, a niece of twenty-seven, married, with two children, and abandoned for long periods by her husband, a handsome idler who looked after the railway buildings at Pokima Halt where trains stopped twice a day, Suniti said to Shama, “I hear that you come like a big-shot, Aunt.” She didn’t hide her amusement. “Buying house and thing.” 4. At one point, Biswas finds a little boy breaking bottles in his shop, and grabs him b the collar, pulling him out. The boy cries, the mother is upset that Biswas touched her child. Her response, read this “The mother broke two switches on the boy, speaking as she beat. “This will teach you not to meddle with things that don’t belong to you. This will teach you not to provoke people who don’t make any allowances for children.” She caught sight of the marks left on the boy’s collar by Mr. Biswas’s fingers, sticky from the tin-lid. “And this will teach you not to let big people make your clothes dirty. This will teach you that they don’t have to wash them. You are a big man. You know right. You know wrong. You are not a child. That is why I am beating you as though you are a big man and can take a big man’s blows.” Get the irony? If one can’t get such stuff, one need not read third world literature at all. Executing such a scene, with this sort of dialogue is near impossible to an ordinary writer, and Naipaul, is no ordinary writer.

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