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A House for Mr. Biswas (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 28 Sep 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (28 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141182830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141182834
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,204,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Naipaul has constructed a marvelous prose epic that matches the best nineteenth-century novels for richness of comic insight and final, tragic power."-"Newsweek"

Book Description

A gripping masterpiece, hailed as one of the twentieth century's finest novels.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By P. Nundlall on 16 May 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
VS Naipaul's story of the struggle of a poor labourer's son growing up in early 19th century Trinidad is remarkable for its realism - something few people have pointed out, preferring instead to dwell on the oft mentioned tragi-comedy aspect of his writings. Those who come from similar backgrounds in the colonies will surely get the feeling of déjà-vu. For example, one of the things that you aspire to growing up on the islands is to have a house of your own some day, which is what the whole story is about.

Naipaul's trademark comedy permeates the novel - he starts right from the very begining by calling the 21-day old baby Mohun 'Mr. Biswas'. And the name sticks! However, the sense of pathos, gloom and pessimism that surrounds poor Indian immigrants is firmly established from the outset, never to leave the reader even during Mr. Biswas' happier days.

The full characterisation of the people orbiting around Mr. Biswas is left to the imagination of the reader, as Naipaul does not commit to paint the whole portrait of each one of them. The story, even though told by an outside narrator, is nevertheless told from Mr. Biswas' point of view. Therefore this fits Naipaul's characterisation of the 'others' as Mr. Biswas is not your deep, philosophical traditional hero. In fact, he is selfish, uncooperative, rebelious, and as some have said, a 'born loser'. Personally, I don't agree with the loser epithet - I think he is just a product of his background and of the times he is living. For each of the few descendants of indentured labourers who went on to achieve world-wide fame and wealth, there were hundreds of thousands who suffered the same fate as Mr. Biswas.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 Jan. 2002
Format: Paperback
A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS is a thoroughly enjoyable book, a family saga-type book of the style that other writers of Indian origin have subsequently written to such great effect. But Naipaul's prose marks him apart - it is not overblown, like Rushdie's, nor somehow insipid, like Vikram Seth's. It is sharp, clear, smooth and wonderfully seductive.
On top of the wonderful prose, the tale is gripping, and the story of Biswas's struggles with work and family and life and position somehow epitomise much about the legacy of colonialism and the nature of ambition and "success".
What is also interesting, and telling, are the few indications of the later racism against black people which has marred Naipaul's more recent public comments - but this should not detract from a wonderful book.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Depressaholic on 24 Jun. 2006
Format: Paperback
`AHFMB' is the story of Mohun Biswas, a Trinidadian of Indian descent, and his lifelong search for a place to call his own. The book follows his life from his birth, to his early life as he searches for a career to call his own, to his marriage and life with his stifling in-laws, to his first (very belated) attempts at complete independence and finally to his death (with which the book actually begins). Mr Biswas is an everyman: not too bright, not too good-looking, not too strong, and his attempts to make a better life for himself are constantly thwarted by his own failings, and the ambition of those around him. Throughout the whole book Biswas, and all the other characters, are trying to define their roles and find a niche in the new post-colonial Trinidad.

`AHFMB' reminded me a lot of Rushdie's `Midnight's Children', both in its subject matter and its construction. There is a touch of magical realism at the beginning, with Mr Biswas' unlucky sneeze bringing disaster, and the dialogue between the Hindu characters is reminiscent of the lyrical `hinglish' often used by Indian writers. Mr Biswas' story represents a nation finding its new identity post-colonialism on many levels. Firstly, there is the lack of definition suffered by all the characters, as they struggle to find what they can achieve in post-colonial Trinidad. The characters also have more allegorical significance, such as the Tulsi's (Biswas' in-laws) representation of the old (and failing) social order, or other characters representing religious institutions or the influx of new money. `AHFMB' is a very clever observation of a society finding its roles.

The thing that made `AHFMB' such an enjoyable read, was the jaunty style in which it was written.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By hillbank68 TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has just been and discussed at the book group of which I am a member. Everyone found something to like in it, but opinions overall differed a lot. It tells of Mr. Biswas, a Trinidadian Hindu (and from a brahmin family, so high-caste), from his birth to his death at the age of 46 (that is no spoiler - we are told of it in the first chapter). The character is based on Naipaul's father, and his son, Anand, on Naipaul himself. Mr. Biswas lives through extreme poverty and difficulty, constantly (as an adult) struggling to assert his individuality in the face of his wife's large and extended family, the Tulsis. His dream is to have his own house and he makes a number of attempts to do so, all more or less doomed until the end of the book, when he has a measure of (very qualified) success - again, we know about that right from the start.

It is a complex book. The society on which it centres, that of Indians living in Trinidad, has its own rules and standards, and I found it fascinating to read about these and see how they worked themselves out. There are constant rows, but they are also supportive and dutiful in times of crisis. Husbands beat their wives and wives their children, but this is almost like an expected ritual, and there is even some pride taken in the effectiveness of these beatings, as if they are a necessary part of family life. Families respect the 'pundit', the wise man in their midst who performs quasi-religious rituals (for example, to bless Mr. Biswas's house at one point), even to the extent that when the pundit decrees that baby Biswas has an unlucky sneeze, everyone believes him.

In the midst of all this is Mr. Biswas, usually sceptical and trying to be himself. And what is he?
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