`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. Mr Biswas' life is actually pretty depressing on the whole, but Naipaul tells his story as a comic tale, making it an easy read, and never unduly heavy. `AHFMB' is a clever, thought provoking and easy read. It is a big book, but simply flew by as I read. Absolutely brilliant.