HALF A LIFE

V. S. Naipaul, Author . Knopf $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-375-40737-6

V.S. Naipaul has often been accused of being ungenerous, especially in his scathing accounts of Third World countries. His slim new novel tacitly poses the question of the worth of generosity without clarity and purpose. Willie Chandran, the central figure here, is born in India in the 1930s, the son of a bitter mixed caste marriage between a Brahmin and a "backwards" person, or untouchable. Willie learns as a child to despise his father's ineffectuality and his mother's coarseness. His father's vague motive in marrying his mother had been to break out of the provincial mold in which he was raised and to "live out a life of sacrifice," but too late he discovered that he retained all the prejudices of his caste and despised his wife. Going to London on a scholarship, Willie mixes in immigrant and bohemian circles, and even publishes a book. Naipaul's detached rendering of Willie's travails shows what happens to a young man who pieces his life together around the great, central dread of not being taken seriously—the image of his father as an "idler" is always in his mind. Willie meets Ana, a woman of mixed African descent, when she writes him a fan letter about his novel. They become lovers. Willie goes back with Ana to her large outback estate in the "half and half" world of a Portuguese colony like Mozambique, where he remains for 18 years. Naipaul's plain narrative is studded with beautifully realized scenes, such as the London party at which a newspaper editor reads his own, self-written obituary, or the night Willie goes to an African brothel with Alvaro, an estate overseer. Although this novel does not aspire to the breadth of Naipaul's earlier fiction, it reminds us that his vision is on par with Conrad's or Graham Greene's. 40,000 first printing; 5-city author tour. (Oct. 24)

Reviewed on: 09/17/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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FORMATS
Paperback - 226 pages - 978-0-330-48517-3
Hardcover - 227 pages - 978-0-330-48516-6
Hardcover - 978-1-58547-176-8
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-375-70728-5
Paperback - 226 pages - 978-0-330-52285-4
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