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Half a Life (original 2001; edition 2001)
by V.S. Naipaul
Half a Life by V. S. Naipaul (2001)
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 037570728X, Paperback)Half a Life finds the veteran Booker and Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul on familiar territory, blending autobiography and fiction in an exploration of the "half lives" of individuals brought up in the English colonies and educated in metropolitan cities.
Naipaul's protagonist is Willie Somerset Chandran, named after Somerset Maugham's encounter with Willie's father in the 1930s while traveling "to get material for a novel about spirituality." Willie travels to England for his education, where he becomes "part of the special, passing bohemian-immigrant life of London of the late 1950s." Willie soon realizes that his colonial background allows him to write short stories for well-meaning white liberals, and he begins "to understand that he was free to present himself as he wished" and that he could "remake himself and his past" through his writing. The effect is suffocating rather than liberating, and he marries a vaguely sketched "girl or young woman from an African country," who has read his one published book. Willie begins another "half life" in colonial Mozambique, where he soon tires of the domestic and sexual tedium of plantation life and flees to Germany, mournfully reflecting that "I have been hiding for too long."
This is classic Naipaul, with its effortless dissection of the damaging personal consequences of post-war decolonization, but its virtue seems its primary vice, as the novel feels like a conflation of several earlier Naipaul books, including The Mimic Men and the brilliant A Bend in the River. Consequently, some readers may well find that Half a Life reads more like half a novel. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:21 -0400)
"Half a Life is the story of Willie Chandran, whose father, heeding the call of Mahatma Gandhi, turned his back on his brahmin heritage and married a woman of low caste - a disastrous union he would live to regret, as he would the children that issued from it. When Willie reaches manhood, his flight from the travails of his mixed birth takes him from India to London, where, in the shabby haunts of immigrants and literary bohemians of the 1950s, he contrives a new identity. This is what happens as he tries to defeat self-doubt in sexual adventures and in the struggle to become a writer - strivings that bring him to the brink of exhaustion, from which he is rescued, to his amazement, only by the love of a good woman. And this is what happens when he returns with her - carried along, really - to her home in Africa, to live, until the last doomed days of colonialism, yet another life not his own."--BOOK JACKET.
(summary from another edition)
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