Winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature.
One of the finest living writers in the English language, V. S. Naipaul gives us a tale as wholly unexpected as it is affecting, his first novel since the exultantly acclaimed A Way in the World, published seven years ago.
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 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.
In a luminous narrative that takes us across three continents, Naipaul explores his great theme of inheritance with an intimacy and directness unsurpassed in his extraordinary body of work. And even as he lays bare the bitter comical ironies of assumed identities, he gives us a poignant spectacle of the enervation peculiar to a borrowed life. In one mans determined refusal of what he has been given to be, Naipaul reveals the way of all our experience. As Willie comes to see, "Everything goes on a bias. The world should stop, but it goes on." A masterpiece of economy and emotional nuance, Half a Life is an indelible feat of the imagination.
A Visit from Somerset Maugham
Willie Chandran asked his father one day, "Why is my middle name Somerset? The boys at school have just found out, and they are mocking me."
His father said without joy, "You were named after a great English writer. I am sure you have seen his books about the house."
"But I haven't read them. Did you admire him so much?"
"I am not sure. Listen, and make up your own mind."
And this was the story Willie Chandran's father began to tell. It took a long time. The story changed as Willie grew up. Things were added, and by the time Willie left India to go to England this was the story he had heard.
The writer (Willie Chandran's father said) came to India to get material for a novel about spirituality. This was in the 1930s. The principal of the maharaja's college brought him to me. I was doing penance for something I had done, and I was living as a mendicant in the outer courtyard of the big temple. It was a...
Half a Life has a larger significance than simply rehashing a sad event in the past; in fact, it's one of those rare books that I would recommend to almost any reader. We all have to find ways to cope with loss and much of this adjustment is hidden from our everyday routine and acquaintances. Though Strauss's memoir has a painful premise, I found it a surprising comfort to understand another person's response to tragedy, especially when I noticed that the author's most private thoughts, though they were almost shocking in their honesty, weren't all that different from my own inner dialogue regarding my own losses and difficulties. Readers will see past the painful circumstances to the beauty of a man who has spent half his life making decisions and living his life in light of very difficult truth.
If you liked Half A Life, try these:
"Astonishing. . . . A rich and varied spectacle, full of wisdom and laughter and the touches of the unexpectedly familiar through which literature illuminates life." - The Wall Street Journal.
Mistry evokes laughter and tears as he spins the great wheel of human life and charts the soul's confusion and the body's decline, the endless cycle of repeated mistakes and failures of heart, and, yes, the radiant revelations of love.
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