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on 10 December 2001
The Mystic Masseur was Naipaul's first novel, and it is probably the best known of his works (a movie has been turned out by Messrs. Merchant & Ivory, although at the date of writing it has not yet been released to the public). The main character is one Ganesh Ramsumair, the son of an Indian immigrant to Trinidad, who seems to be blessed by fortune. Each time he is in danger of taking a wrong turn, his fate steps in and gently nudges him in the right direction. Ganesh first attends school in Port of Spain, where he feels inadequate and has only one friend, clever anglophile Indarsingh, who leaves for Oxford upon graduation. Ganesh then attends a teacher's college, and takes a position as an elementary school teacher. He is not a success and resigns his position for a life of idleness, which is ended when his father dies, bequeathing to him some land and some royalties from an oil company. When attending his father's funeral he meets his formidable relation, The Great Belcher, who is one of these wise elderly Indian women who are accostumed to running funerals, marriages, businesses and lives for their younger folk. He also meets Ramlogan, extremely unpleasant owner of a rhum shop who is quarrelsome but cowardly, and not above any underhandedness (he will turn up again and play a crucial part in Naipaul's "The Suffrage of Elvira"), whose daughter Leela he marries. Much more devious than would appear initially, Ganesh takes advantage of Ramlogan's pride and extracts from him a house in a remote village and a significant dowry. This is fortunate, because at this time the oil royalty checks stop coming in. Ganesh and Leela move into the Ramlogan's house, and quickly become acquainted with the local rhum-shop owner, Suruj Poopa, who becomes Ganesh's true friend and sounding board. Ganesh spends several years doing nothing much except reading and trying to launch a career as a masseur, but he is apparently not very good at it. He even writes a short book on the Hindu religion, but it doesn't sell. Leela, desperate at his lack of direction tries to convince him to take a job working for the Americans in their military base (WWII is now in force), but fate takes a hand when the Great Belcher and Suruj Poopa advice Ganesh to become a mystic. As a mystic he is extremely successful, performing miraculous cures and eventually becoming a public figure. His prosperity communicates to the entire village where he lives, and to his friends the Surujs, and even his father in law, with whom he quarrels again and again. Eventually, after defeating his rival Narayan (peculiar, this choice of a name) he becomes a leader of the Hindu vote in Trinidad, and a Member of the Legislative Chamber. Initially a leftist (he and Indarsingh try to articulate the theory of Socialinduism, a melange of Hindu nationalism and scientific socialism) and a firebrand (frequently arrested for criticizing government corruption), he then becomes a pillar of the establishment, and is finally rechristened Sir Gordon Ramsay, OBE. His Trinidadian dialect becomes the cut-glass accent of the BBC and his Indian garb is replaced by a tailor made three piece suit.
The story, thus told, loses the sense of destiny that Naipaul is able to weave in through the expert use of atmosphere and character. The self-discovery of Ganesh from his humble origins is very well-rendered, and many characters are memorable(especially Leela, Ramlogan, Suruj Poopa and an unnamed boy who helps Ganesh edit his newspaper). The liberating power of reading the great books (which is what Ganesh reads, rather than the lowbrow fare that Mohun Biswas gobbles up in "A House for Mister Biswas") is something that must have rung true for Naipaul (as it did for this reviewer). Several themes (the power of small events to have great consequences, and the almost unlimited scope for personal re-invention) were probably also derived from the author's own experience. This book is a triumph and a jewel.
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on 25 September 2001
This is a sneaky one. At first I found myself reading a funny, lyrical book about the non-adventures of its charming hero, Ganesh. I was seduced by its dusty Trinidad locations and startled and amused by the day to day dramas and confrontations of its fullsome characters, none of them too good or too bad to be true, all real to me. I found myself believiing, beleiving in Ganesh the guru and his dreams. Then Naipaul abruptly finishes with a surprise that made me feel like I had received a short sharp lesson from a very wise man. It'll leave you thinking about it long after you've finished the book.
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on 27 June 2002
This is the first Naipaul book I have read and I liked it.
The story focuses on a character called Ganesh - the eponymous "mystic masseur" . In the first chapter we learn that Ganesh is famous and successful. The writer then proceeds to recount
Ganesh's life to us from boyhood to manhood. There is little that is remarkable about the hero's life, except that he has a strong disinclination to work. The impetus to read on, lies in wanting to know how this somewhat lazy but likeable character achieves his success.
The writer tells the story of Ganesh in a very tongue in cheek manner. The characters are constantly seen to be hypocritical and self-contradictory - their egos frequently cloud their logic but they are no less likeable for this all too human foible.
This is a good book. It reminds us of something that we already know, but sometimes forget: regardless of race, creed, colour, etc., men are essentially all alike in their tendency to be ridiculous.
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on 6 March 2003
The story follows the rise of Ganesh, from mystic massuer to politician. Sharp observations and penatrating humour, Naipaul's masterly prose probes the lives of a disparate Indian community in Trinidad.
The character Ramlogan, is portrayed with great insight and humour. His personality so typical of many Indians is a sublime comic creation that had me laughing out loud.
The power of Naipaul's writing lies in his simplicity and ultra-objectivism. It's the first novel I have read of his and it has given me a desire to read more (his travel writing, particularly his trilogy on India, is indispensible for any one interested in India).
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 December 2014
Didn't enjoy this as much as Naipaul's superb 'A House for Mr Biswas' but it's an entertaining read, following the rise of Ganesh Ramsumair. Set in the Trinidad of the 30s and 40s, Ganesh is a mediocre student and teacher. When he comes home to his father's funeral, he lapses into a life of inactivity...and accumulating books:
"Nine hundred and thirty book. Every book about one inch thick, I suppose."
"Makes about seventy-seven feet."

Life moves on to initial and unsuccessful attempts at writing and massage, before re-inventing himself as a mystic. But his new success causes trouble with his father-in-law, and with a politician via the local press...

There are some very humorous moments:
flatulent aunt, ''The great Belcher" - 'she was so overcome she could only belch and ask for water. She got Coca-Cola. It made her burp between belches and she remained uncommunicative for some time.'

Or Ganesh's later literary efforts: 'Only two months after the publication of 'What God Told Me' Ganesh scored a stupendous success of scandal. His inspiration was the musical toilet-roll rack. Because 'Profitable Evacuation' was published during the war its title was misunderstood; fortunately for it might not have been allowed if the authorities knew that it was concerned more or less with constipation.'

And yet as the book reaches its end, there is a serious side...
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on 13 July 2013
This book got to me for a number of reasons, got to me for mainly good reasons. Firstly though, it is described, on the rear cover, as " of the authors finest comic creations....." I find the book humorous on times but this is not a belly laughter book - and presumably not meant to be either - but the characters certainly do have a comic nature. In this way it reminded me of Stella Gibbon's novel, "Cold Comfort Farm" which was written in 1932 and I described as "Slowing you down to the speed of the day" Something that "The Mystic Masseur" also does.

I had a feeling of uneasiness at the beginning of the book as it seemed to be disparaging toward the people of Trinidad and the way they spoke. Seeing that the author was born in Trinidad, of Indian extraction, seemed to justify the books actions. Then the feeling progressed into slight confusion. Firstly, showing my own ignorance, I had no idea that there were Indians and people of Indian extraction, in Trinidad. This led, for me, to a confused reading of the dialect. It started to come off the page and into my head as an Afro Caribbean / West Indian dialect, as that seems to be the way in which it is written. Later, I was reading the dialect as Caribbean with a slight Indian inflection to some of the words. Whether right or wrong, it added to, rather than diminished my enjoyment.

"You know she, then?"

"Know she! Is I who take up King George. Mark you, I think I was very lucky coming across she. Now I take she everywhere with me."

"She related to us?"

"You could say so. Phulbassia is a sort of cousin to King George and you is a sort of cousin to Phulbassia."

The aunt belched, not the polite after-dinner belch, but a long, stuttering thing. "Is the wind" she explained without apology. "It have a long time now - since your father dead, come to think of it - I suffering from this wind."

The above, read on its own, might seem a bit of a chore but, on the contrary, this is a book that meanders at a slow pace, even though it depicts the rapid rise of Ganesh. I am only sorry that I bought and read it in November as it would be a nice holiday book, or at the very least a book to read on a hot sunmmer's day.
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on 19 January 2015
the story of ganesh rise from unfocused student to a masseur come holy man ultimately a high powered politician wonderfully written great observations the feuding and business between the main characters is surreal.
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on 12 August 2016
Just the right level of indianism to keep you enthralled.This wife-beater turned healer turned politician really ranks it as a humanitarian.
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