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A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS - 1961

2001-Present

No other Naipaul novel has sustained so much attention over such a sustained length of time. An entire book, edited by Meenakshi Bharat entitled V. S Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas: Critical Perspectives in fact contains fourteen essays by many well-known writers who focus all of their attention on just this single book. in the local context the book has always been very important.  Patricia Mohammed says that Naipaul’s “juxtaposition of home against the wider society with the domestic being the dominant signifier for defining Indianness spoke to my own experience of persistently inhabiting a separate cultural world within the space of Trinidad and the region” (68). Kumar Parag’s essay gives a postcolonial analysis of A House For Mr. Biswas while commenting on V S Naipaul himself as a “product of post-imperialist society.” The ideas in this essay are quite familiar and are often reiterated in research such as “Cultural Crisis in V S Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas” by Ghanshyam Pal or “The Situation of Colonial ‘Other’ in V S Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas” by Tahereh Siamardi. In “Alienation, V S Naipaul and Mr. Biswas” Mehmet Recep adopts a recognizable starting point: “V S Naipaul is one of the most controversial postcolonial writers who is known to have generated controversy and to be the mouthpiece of a Eurocentric view.” This territory is now well-trodden and includes many such as these. The book has also been central in discussions of tropes of home in the postcolonial text. It has also been viewed by a few Indian scholars as intimating various features of diaspora.

Kenneth Ramchand in his 2019 essay, “Being and Becoming a Writer: Family Ambitions” in Seepersad and Sons: Naipaulian Synergies, speaks about these early texts by V S Naipaul as offering “insights into the seepages between the cultures of the different ethnic groups in the island that helped to make the fusion society.” In an earlier essay, Ramchand had called the text “the West Indian novel of rootlessness par excellence” with Mr Biswas struggling “between the tepid chaos of a decaying culture and the void of a colonial society” (97). Robert Clarke in his exposition “Our St James” in Seepersad and Sons: Naipaulian Synergies tells us about the real house that Seepersad Naipaul bought in St James in 1946 that became the family home to V S Naipaul and his family. Chandra B Joshi’s “Very Much my Father’s Book”: Autobiographical Element in A House for Mr Biswas” tries to recount the connections between the father and the son. Belinda Edmondson in her essay speaks about the difficulty of defining a pan-Caribbean aesthetic and Naipaul’s inclusion in the same. Fariza Mohammed in her essay “Karma and the Naipaul Bothers” in Seepersad and Sons: Naipaulian Synergies, reads the karma of the protagonist Mohan “as being the result of human activity” and not as a “victim of fate.” J. Vijay Maharaj in her essay “A Mala in Obeisance: Hinduism in Selected Texts by V S Naipaul” reiterates the presence of the sceptic and the seeker of truth as two categories of interrogators in Naipaul’s texts. Meanwhile in Bharat's collection, Maharaj expounds on Mr Biswas Caribbeanness in "Mr Biswas: Paragon of Creole Virtues." Jennifer Rahim in “The Shadow of Hanuman: V S Naipaul and the ‘Unhomely’ House of Fiction” draws on Naipaul’s intercultural inheritance as the source for his narrative, religious and philosophical influences.

Anjali Gera in her essay “Strange Moves: Girmitya Turns Cosmopolitan” argues that “Mr Biswas’s obsessive desire to own a house captures the girmitya (agreement-signers) psyche accurately.” The Indian indentured labourers had to officially sign up to come to Trinidad and hence the term, girmitya, is used to refer to them. Gera feels that “the girmitya carries his homeland in his “gunny sack” or “truck load” of memories wherever he moves.” Meenakshi Bharat in “Colonial Maladies, Postcolonial Cures? ‘Sick’ Politics in A House for Mr Biswas” talks about the metaphor of illness as Naipaul’s “comment on a colonial society on the threshold of change.” She reworks this essay elsewhere to establish that the text is about “the history of a society that seems to be intrinsically and endemically sick” (119). Elizabeth Jackson argues that V S Naipaul constructs masculinity through “drunkenness, infidelity, domination of women, and domestic violence” in her essay “Constructions of Masculinity in Vidia Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas and Shiva Naipaul’s Fireflies” in Seepersad and Sons: Naipaulian Synergies. In another book, John Thieme’s 2013 essay, “Looking for Mr Biswas,” highlights aspects of Naipaul’s London life in the 1950s that are reflected in A House for Mr Biswas: “While Naipaul followed his father’s advice and the final text is an imagined version of what Seepersad’s life might have been like, the novel also reworks elements from English texts such as The History of Mr Polly, incorporates fictionalized memories of his own experiences as a boy, and displaces elements from his recent London life onto Biswas’s life in Trinidad” (15). Visiting Trinidad in the early 1980s, Thieme went to places that Naipaul had immortalised in his text. Harish Trivedi, on a similar journey to Trinidad in 2011, recounts his own experience in the essay titled “The Many Houses of Mr Naipaul”

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