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Magic Seeds by V. S. Naipaul

Magic Seeds (2004)

by V. S. Naipaul

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449735,377 (3.22)8



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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Please note this review will have spoilers.

After leaving behind his wife and his life in Africa, Willie spends time in Berlin with his political sister, who encourages him to return to their homeland of India and join with some revolutionaries there. Unwittingly, Wilie gets involved with a violent faction of the movement, spending years with these radicalized folks before being rescued back to England where he began his career as a young man.

I don't even know where to being with this book. Apparently it's a follow-up to a previous book by Naipaul, which I did not know until just moments ago. That fact may help with one irritation I found with the book, which was that Willie keeps referencing his past life in England and especially Africa but what exactly happened there is never fully explained. Now I guess I have the answer in that Naipaul assumes you've read the previous book and know that past. That, however, is not my biggest issue with this book. Honestly, it was just kind of dull and meaningless.

In many respects, this book reminds me of Sinclair Lewis's Main Street -- possibly an unlikely connection, but I felt like the two main characters were very similar in that they drift from experience to experience looking for some great meaning in life and never finding it. Willie has no real ambitions and direction in life; he moves back to India and joins a political group because his sister (with whom he does seem to have a bizarre relationship) suggests it, and she herself seems to be influenced by her German boyfriend. Even after he realizes how radical they are, Wilie doesn't leave the group he's joined because of ... inertia? No matter where Wilie is, he is unhappy. In jail, he can't stand being with the political prisoners; when he's moved with the general population, he can't stand it; when he goes to the prison hospital, he's miserable; when he gets a lifeline to get out of jail free, then he's upset than he can't leave England again after this. After years in a guerrilla group and years in prison, Willie literally says he has no takeaway from his time in India. He killed a man in India, yet he says nothing he did there mattered.

Once in England, Willie's life is flowing with the tide again, following around whatever his lawyer/friend Roger tells him to do. Willie just lives in Roger's house in the beginning, drifting away his time looking for things to fill the hours, including sleeping with Roger's wife because, hey, why not. In fact, it seems like everyone in Willie's circle is sleeping with someone other than their spouse, but yet the younger generation who have children before getting married are the only ones who are criticized. Most of this section of the book deals with Roger's pretentious thoughts on class and what he perceives as problems. We hear on multiple occasions about how these horrible single mothers are gaming the system by asking for government assistance. Seriously, Willie murdering a man in cold blood is mentioned for about two sentences, but there are two or three long rants about women receiving welfare for their children. If Naipaul is trying to make a point here, I just don't get what it is.

The only redeeming thing about this book was that the audio version was narrated by Aasif Mandvi, who was excellent at negotiating all the accents and emotions that accompany this story. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Aug 8, 2016 |
Firstly I feel that it is only fair to admit that I read this book not realising that it is the sequal to another,'Half a Life', which I've not read so that will almost certainly have a bearing on my opinion of this book.

The story, such as it is, revolves around Willie Chadran, an Indian who grew up in India, went to university in London before moving to Africa and marrying a Portuguese woman. After 18 years of marriage he leaves his wife and move to Berlin and his sister, whom he has had little contact with for 20 years. In Berlin he finds his sister has been radicalised into being a supporter of some Indian revolutionaries. She cajoles Willie into returing to India, a country he has not visited since his childhood and does not understand to join the rebelion. Willie soon becomes disallusioned with the rebels but is too fearful and complacent to leave them. Eventually he is captured, imprisoned and eventually released and returned to London. The magic seeds of the title refer to the crazy notion of climbing a giant beanstalk and there slaying a giant.

That all said I'm afraid that I wasn't overly impressed this book. On the whole I rather liked Naipaul's writing style and that the story, such as it is, is many layered however after a while the frequent repetitions became somewhat grating. However, my main problems was with the chracters.In particular the fact that I just could not relate or empathise with any of them. Willie himself just seems to drift from one situation to the next like a feather on the wind and then does nothing but moan about where he has landed rather than actually trying to make a life for himself. Mainly I felt that they all became merely vehicles for Naipaul's own prejudices. The predominant ones being power and class.

Now I rather enjoyed his critique of revolutionaries and how they are more interested in personal power than they are in the needs and interests of the people that they are supposedly fighting for, not just in India but all over the world. However, once Willi returned to London and the 'civilized' world the story then centres predominantly on his friend and benefactor Roger and Roger's wife Perdita and their marriage problems. This, although comical at times, became too banal for my taste. In the end I felt that all the characters were merely whingers and as such annoying.

I did reach the end of the book so it can't be all bad but if you do want to read this book make sure that you read the prequal first. ( )
1 vote PilgrimJess | Sep 22, 2013 |
I just love the man's prose. Doesn't seem to matter whether I care for the story opr not - I simply love reading his words. ( )
  EctopicBrain | Jul 31, 2012 |
I like reading his books, I always feel like I have learned something, not always sure what exactly. That's how I feel about this book, not one of his best, which is why I give it a 7 (though a VSN 7 is higher than most's 7s).

Willie is one of those people that life seems to happen to. From India, he goes to London and drifts into to 20 years of married life in Portuguese Africa, hiding behind walls away from the struggles for independence. He goes to Berlin, where his sister is living with Wolf, she convinces him to join a rebel group in India.

An interesting thing about the book is hearing Willie's thoughts - questioning his motives, being more honest, thinking what he's unable to say. We also get to see why others have joined. Emancipation of a group of people who don't seem to want, what are the rebels fighting for? A lad who went to the city for his education, ending up being caught between two worlds, too country for the city, but not enough for the country.

In the final section of the book, the author deals with British class issues, the one-up-manship. The upper class man, greeting guests in a dressing gown, making sure they remember where they are on the scale. A book about people trying to fit in, trying to find where they fit in.

The one character I hated was the sister, she suggests that Willie goes (something he doesn't hold against her), but she is safe. People she has been involved with are picked up, but she skates on. ( )
  soffitta1 | Jan 11, 2011 |
An enjoyable book - the narrative always pulled me on. But now that I've finished it, it seems as if it were two or three chapters from the middle of someone's autobiography, lacking the chapters preceding and following. ( )
  jackotis | Oct 6, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375707271, Paperback)

Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul’s magnificent Magic Seeds continues the story of Willie Chandran, the perennially dissatisfied and self-destructively naive protagonist of his bestselling Half a Life.
Having left a wife and a livelihood in Africa, Willie is persuaded to return to his native India to join an underground movement on behalf of its oppressed lower castes. Instead he finds himself in the company of dilettantes and psychopaths, relentlessly hunted by police and spurned by the people he means to liberate. But this is only one stop in a quest for authenticity that takes in all the fanaticism and folly of the postmodern era. Moving with dreamlike swiftness from guerrilla encampment to prison cell, from the squalor of rural India to the glut and moral desolation of 1980s London, Magic Seeds is a novel of oracular power, dazzling in its economy and unblinking in its observations.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:20 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Willie Chandran feels as though the life he lives is not his own. But his listlessness washes away in a flood of encouragement from his radically political sister. Inspired, he joins an underground liberation movement in India. But after years of revolution and incarceration, he grows disillusioned and returns to England, still hoping to find his true self.… (more)

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