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A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

A House for Mr. Biswas (1961)

by V. S. Naipaul

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The story of Mr. Biswas, from birth to death, is a tale of a man struggling to break free from the confines of his island, his class and his stifling family. Much of Mr. Biswas' unpopularity with those around him is due to his rebellion against slipping quietly into the role he has been assigned by his culture, the family he marries into, and even the island of Trinidad itself. His quest for a house he can call his own represents his constant internal battle: to stake his claim in the world and be recognized as a man with intelligence and ambition. He is, in his own words, a man who wants to "paddle his own canoe," a phrase the rest of his family mocks him with for his entire life.

The book is comic, but also sad, especially at the end. Largely autobiographical, the novel draws upon Naipaul's experiences growing up in Trinidad and watching his father battle for self-respect and some recognition of achievement as a journalist and writer. Long, but elegantly written, the book is well worth the reader's time. Mr. Biswas is an unforgettable and complex character, as are many of the multitude of other characters in the book, especially his wife and mother-in-law. Few of us probably know much about the culture of Trinidad, and this book provides a fine overview of the mix of cultures, beliefs and lifestyles that make up this island. ( )
  kishields | Apr 6, 2016 |
Naipaul waivers on the brink between comedy and tragedy - a bit like the real world. Remorselessly depressing, this is the tale of a dream that never quite becomes a reality. Mr Biswas is all of us - every one of us who has ever tried to step outside the norm and has faced the unrelenting intensity of disappointment. Mr Biswas is that part of us that is full of rage at the machine, facing insurmountable odds. The only thing missing is a Sancho Panza who might succeed at inserting a bit more humor into this quest for an impossible dream. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Essentially a book in which nothing happens, this is a lovely story about relationships and families. I really enjoyed this. ( )
  sashinka | Jan 14, 2016 |
Like many of the other reviewers here, I found this book very difficult to get into. Abandoned it once after 30 pages, but made a determined second attempt. Ultimately an intense reading experience, if not a great novel. I am astounded by those who speak of the book's "humour." What else amuses them? An elderly vet falling and breaking his hip on the steps of the cenotaph as he tries to lay a wreath? I found this book dark and painful in the extreme, a record of defeat unmitigated by the smallest pleasure; every meal is badly cooked, every physical object is jerry-built and damaged, every outing or promised treat ends in disappointment. (There is one exception, late in the story. "Laden hampers" are featured, an obsessive theme.) Family relationships are universally coercive and/or abusive. Stylistically, as others have noted, it is repetitive and without narrative shape. One feels that details and events have been included for extra-literary reasons. Naipaul says in his introduction to the 20th anniversary edition "Of all my books this is the one closest to me. It is the most personal, created out of what I saw and felt as a child." If this is remotely true it reveals a psychic wound of unimaginable depth and probably explains why Naipaul is widely regarded as a very nasty man, personally speaking.
  booksaplenty1949 | Nov 10, 2015 |
I enjoyed the writing, but the book left me feeling quite sad. Mr Biswas was born in to poverty in Trinidad and struggled all his life to rise above it. He was married young and engulfed into his wife's Sharma's family. He was not a lucky man. and I did not like him very much. Still, he tried. ( )
  TheWasp | May 29, 2015 |
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For this book written between 1957 and 1960 A Late Dedication
31 July 1932, Gloucester
3 February 1996, Salterton
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Ten weeks before he died, Mr. Mohun Biswas, a journalist of Sikkim Street, St. James, Port of Spain, was sacked.
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Una Casa Para El Senor Biswas (Contempora) is the same work that A house for Mr Biswas
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375707166, Paperback)

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

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:40 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Heartrending and darkly comic, this book masterfully evokes a man's quest for autonomy against the backdrop of post-colonial Trinidad.

» see all 4 descriptions

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