V. S. Naipaul

THE LAUREATE: Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1932 to a long-established Indian family. He was educated in Britain and has wandered the world writing ever since. He was married twice. He is also a somewhat controversial figure in post-colonial circles. Meh.

WHAT I’M READING: Half a Life

REVIEW: Someone on Amazon called Half a Life half a book, and in a sense, he’s right. Willy Chandran was born to an uprooted and deceptive priestly family – his grandfather left one dying temple for a more prosperous one, his father pissed off the family of his bride by spending time with a lower-caste woman, then eventually marrying her (he also apparently met W. Somerset Maugham) – and he finds the effort to stay in his family more than he can stand. He goes to study in London on a scholarship, where he farts around in the colonial bohemian scene for a while and meets a fellow classmate who came from Jamaica to basically be a landlord’s thug. When the race riots combine with the end of Willy’s term at school, he clings to a girl who admired his only book and follows her back to Portuguese Africa, where he somehow finds himself caught on the other side of the colonial oppression fence. Not too long after the revolution happens, he up and decides to go live with his sister. The end.(..?)

The main theme of Half a Life is identity: how do we define ourselves and our place in the world? More importantly, how do people who, for ages and ages, have been used for the petty schemes of their social “betters” define themselves and their place in the world? There’s a great little vignette at the beginning of the trip to Africa that describes the creeping panic of the displaced and dispossessed: Willy is worried that he has long since forgotten his own language, and his English will fade before he can learn the language they speak at his African savior’s manor. He fears that he will literally be unable to speak so he spends his time on the boat doing grammar exercises.  This struggle for identity seems to appear a great deal in the 20th century.

RECOMMENDED: Sure, why not? It’s short.

WHAT’S NEXT: Therese Desqueyroux, which will apparently be a movie in August

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