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Half A Life

3.23 of 5 stars 3.23  ·  rating details  ·  2,150 ratings  ·  209 reviews
Half a Life finds the veteran Booker and Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul on familiar territory, blending autobiography and fiction in an exploration of the "half lives" of individuals brought up in the English colonies and educated in metropolitan cities.

Naipaul's protagonist is Willie Somerset Chandran, named after Somerset Maugham's encounter with Willie's fath

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Published (first published 2001)
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Martin
Jul 26, 2007 Martin rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Naipaul fans
It does what it does well and not much else. Not a great way to explain it but if you read it you will understand. We follow the exceptionally uneventful life of Willie as he tries to discover himself and find a path to walk down. I found him to be spineless and became quite bored watching him float through life being led by his lust most of the time like so many male characters in so many other(better written) books. But then, the language reflects his life, nothing much exciting going on. Havi...more
Jafar
Quite unremarkable. I haven’t read anything else by Naipaul, and I probably won’t. I know I shouldn’t generalize from reading one book, but I do anyway. Methinks Naipaul is another mediocre Nobel laureate. (Jelinek and Mahfouz are the other examples that come immediately to my mind.) The protagonist is insufferably unlikable, boring, and passive. (At least Jelinek has a sick imagination and manages to make you hate her monstrous characters.) As for the writing – honestly, I think you’ll find bet...more
Robert
Half a Life, published a decade ago, is another one of Naipaul's spare, brooding tales that focuses on the lack of identity--cultural identity, really--that characterizes modern life. The novel begins with a kind of joke. Willie Chandran was so named for W. Somerset Maughm who once met Willie's confused father, a silent holy man in India. This brought Willie no luck, however. Maughm wrote about the father, but he never expressed interest in helping Willie, not even when Willie showed up in Londo...more
David Lentz
I read this novel as the search for and acceptance of the essence of one's true identity. This is a quest upon which Naipaul himself, no doubt, embarked, after his birth in Trinidad, education in England at Oxford, and life in Africa. The challenge of his protagonist is, having been born a "backwards", to understand and accept his real essence as a human being. He tends to approach this existential task by entangling himself in the lives of other people only to find that their lives bring him no...more
Rob
When NY Times reviewer John Chamberlain panned Green Hills of Africa he noted the dialogue, so poetically functional in Hemingway's other major works, was simplified almost to a style of self parody. Instead of being employed as a tool to develop the international cast of characters, everyone from an illiterate local gun bearers to a cosmopolitan German fanboy talks like an imitation of the hero from "A Farewell to Arms."

Half a Life, is similarly pared away. You have the features of a V.S. Naip...more
Sai
This didn't make much of an impression on me –I expected more. The most compelling bit is the story of Willie’s father, not so much of Willie himself. Willie’s father is a man who goes along with the flow of things because he is remarkably mediocre, below average perhaps. Trying to break the tedium and prove himself worthy, he makes a ‘noble’ decision to marry outside his caste, a decision which turns out to be all talk and no substance because he isn’t able to, nor does he genuinely try to, rid...more
Rebecca
This is an unusual novel. There's no actual plot; instead, the story follows a man through his restless, aimless life. I know this doesn't sound very compelling, but it is--his desire for more--to figure out where he belongs and what he should be doing to create meaning in his life--is crushing.

SPOILER!
The structure cleverly echoes this vacancy. After following the character closely for 120 pages, you suddenly encounter this terrifying line: "He stayed for eighteen years." And then the narrativ...more
beth
naipaul is BRUTUAL! many people are critical of his unsympathetic and even accusatory attitude towards citizens of undeveloped countries... but he's got something valid to say and it's worth hearing. this semi-autobiographical work explains how one can be both vulnerable and responsible. in other words, power is not only to be claimed by the wealthy. it's up for grabs.
Khris Sellin
I came across this book when I was looking at the OTHER Half a Life, and I had heard of V.S. Naipaul but never read any of his work so picked this one up.

It may have helped me if I'd read his earlier stuff to understand this story completely. The main character, Willie Somerset Chandran, is born (in the 1930s) of a marriage between a Brahmin father and Untouchable mother. From the beginning of his life, he felt he did not belong. (Cue Cher's "Half Breed" here. Kidding!)

He heads to London for col...more
Zadignose
In this book, Naipaul displays his talent for portraying genuine characters and getting us to sincerely sympathize with them, and thus suffer with them as a consequence of their weakness. The sickness of family, social, national, ethnic, and cultural relationships are all on display, and no one is spared from the low-simmering misery and spiritual oppression that appears to be the universal human condition, at least as perceived from the subjective view of the protagonist. But he wouldn't put it...more
Julie
This is the first novel by Naipaul that I have ever read. In fact, I don’t remember having heard of him before my book club chose this book. The first part of the book left me a bit cold and bored, but suddenly something clicked and I realized it was really a very passionate and even funny novel. Everyone in this novel is pretending to be something they are not. There is a lot about being a stranger in a strange land; Naipaul really captures how it feels to be an expat and the way living in anot...more
Ajay
Sometime in the late 90s Sir Vidia declared that the novel as we know it is dead. It has been supplanted by other forms of entertainment. And soon after he comes out with ‘Half a Life’.
As someone who has admired his works. I was swept by the grace and simple beauty of ‘A House for Mr Biswas’. I was overwhelmed by the journey that I undertook with him in Among the believer and Beyond Belief. The Indian trilogy has shocked and enlightened me in equal measure. I did provide me with an alternative w...more
Nathan
It is awfully frustrating to reach the end of a well-written and engaging tale, only to discover that it is in fact the back story to another book. How much more frustrating it must have been to read this lovely book in 2001, before the sequel was written. You see, the story ends unresolved: the protagonist has learned so much about the world and his place in it, all of what we thought has been duly shaken ... but suddenly the screen goes dark and one is left positively clamouring for more! For...more
Sairam Krishnan
Well, wow!

There are ways stories can be told, and there are ways they can be crafted, and there are ways they can be read. Naipaul makes each one of these processes seem so easy.

Half a Life is a strange book, and its undercurrents are its story. Naipaul gives us a story of a man who lets his life lead him across three continents and 40 years before realizing he hasn't really lived the life he wants to live; in effect, he has lived half a life.

There is this quality to Naipaulian prose; reading hi...more
Joanna
It is telling that I forgot the name of the main character as I am writing this review. He is less important, I think, than the scenes he sets as we travel with him from child to adult and across three continents. While it is largely a coming of age story, the emphasis is on his sexual awakening, which doesn't occur until halfway through the book or more. The real story though, is about systems of racial categorization and subjugation. The caste system of the protagonists birth country is ever p...more
Archit Nanda
Half a life is an uncomfortable read. There are moments of genuine insight such as when Naipaul's protagonist states that not all person are born with sexual impulses and no one teaches us the art of flirting.
Well, I too belong to this unhappy breed who isn't skilled in the art of flirting. There is another scene in which Willie's(protagonist) wife asks him about the rumor she had heard about him and an another women. To which Willie replies that his wife wouldn't understand until she see them...more
Satyabrat Mishra
No book has ever made me laugh as much as half a life. There was a point ( the story of King Cassota and the beggar queen by Wily ) when I closed the book, sat staring at the wall and laughed my heart out.

Half a life is the tale of Wily, the son of a brahmin who (without any wish whatever) marries a girl of lower caste. And thus begin the travails of Wily.

It has all the ingredients of a characteristic Naipaul novel; a classic satire on the Indian society. Full of anecdotes and dark comedy
Rebecca
I have my mother to thank for getting me to read V.S. Naipaul. She read "A House for Mr. Biswas" in her book club and sang its praises. I told her I'd read an excerpt of an interview where he said no woman writer has ever been his equal, and it kind of turned me off of him, but she said to give him a chance.

So I did, and I don't regret it (although I have to say, in terms of biting social commentary, Jane Austen may have wrapped it up more romantically, but she is every bit as good as Naipaul...more
Valerie Yoh
Steer clear of this book! If you must read it, check it out from the library, don't buy it. I didn't enjoy or appreciate the book. There was little about the main character to like, sympathize, appreciate, or become connected with. Then, the more I learned about the author, I found that he was a rather unsavory character as well.

Don't waste your time. There are too many good books out there.

Lauren Albert
The novel is unfortunately as scattered as the characters' ideas of who they are. I understand that Naipaul is trying to show how it is to be one of the people who live half in one community and half in another and so never really live as part of a community at all. But the main characters aren't particularly appealing and the story jumps too much.
Joell
The characters never touched me, the scenery was never vivid, nobody in the book did anything interesting or learned anything about themselves or the world around them - but hey; it won a Pulitzer - so what do I know? I guess I'm just not sophisticated enough of a reader for this book....
Nayef
رواية عادية جدا مكونة من 245 صفحة ولا يوجد بها أي حبكة او عاطفية مثلا لم استمتع بها ولم تعجبني على الاطلاق ولا ادري كيف حصلت على جائزة نوبل
Carla
Gostei. Demorei muito tempo a ler este pequeno livro. Fui saboreando, a antever receando, alguma identificação pessoal. E assim aconteceu. Na parte passada em África, que o autor não designa especificamente, redescobri Moçambique pelos olhos dum indiano e a m/vida, como a de muitas outras pessoas, nomeadamente a dos meus pais, pela metade. Esta é uma outra compreensão/visão da vivência dos portugueses e da conjugação de culturas nas ex-colónias que, na m/opinião, só uma obra literária daria tal...more
Zoth
Parts of Half a Life are excellent. Willie's father's story is a good beginning and many scenes from Willie's student life in England and his half-life in Africa are also very nicely done. Parts of the novel, however, also seem too hurried.
Recommendation: One of the finest living writers in the English language, V. S. Naipaul gives many tales that we do not expect. I would like you to read this book so that you can also experience the life that the protagonist, Willie Chandran, has.

Summary: Half...more
Becky R.
It's nearly impossible to really write a review of Naipaul's Half a Life without including a gut reaction. The multi-layered threading of ideas presented in the novel are mind-numbing, to say the least. Every possible view and corner of race, social class, empire, colonization, education, and sexual politics are explored through the main character's life. Just as you get the sense that you are nailing down a "point" being made, the narrative snakes its way in a different direction.

Although I fe...more
Susan Ackland
I made myself plow through the book because it won the Nobel for literature, but I did not really enjoy it. It is about a man who lives "Half a Life" because he is never an authentic member of whatever society he inhabits. He is Indian, but he is an anomaly in India because his parents come from vastly different castes. In England, he is foreign and finds the culture baffling and finds himself unable to swim into the mainstream. (Why he didn't connect with other Indians in London is beyond me; I...more
Mara
“La metà di una vita" e’ un romanzo sociale di storia contemporanea, che descrive una ricerca di identità, narrata attraverso il viaggio del protagonista Willie Chandran, dall'India a Londra ad una colonia orientale dell'Africa. Sfondo storico e sociale sono colonialismo e conflitti razziali.
All’ inizio del romanzo il protagonista e’ quasi senza spessore, una specie di nebulosa, senza forza e con uno poco spessore psicologico, poi lentamente, con il procedere del suo viaggio e delle vicende acq...more
randy
This is my second Naipaul novel. And while I enjoyed his amazingly sparse prose here as much as I did in his earlier In a Free State, the story itself was not nearly as compelling.
Naipaul is a master story teller, that is surely evident, as he makes you take note of exactly what develops in this atypical fish out of water scenario, but the characters are lacking depth to dignify much of a feeling one way or another for them.
I quite enjoyed the use of parable like stories to make exacting points...more
Susan
I liked this. The story of Willie Chandran, born in India of a high-caste father and low-caste mother, who never really feels that he fits in. In the first half of the book Willie is a student in Post-war London, trying to become a writer and still feeling out of step with his surroundings. He marries another student, a young Portuguese-African student and goes to live on her family estate in colonial Mozambique. This was my favorite part of the book. They live on an estate built by her grandfat...more
Mmars
A book on being marginalized, not just in the country of birth (India) but as a student in Soho London of the 50s and married into estate at the end of colonialation in Africa (60s).

Nowhere does the protagonist feel fully realized. Always he feels himself on the periphery of society and intimacy. There was much that was brilliant in this book. The conveyence of Willie's insecurity onto the reader was constant - in his youth one could feel sympathetic for him, but as he passed on to an adulthood...more
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3989
Naipaul was born and raised in Trinidad, to which his grandfathers had emigrated from India as indentured servants. He is known for the wistfully comic early novels of Trinidad, the bleaker novels of a wider world remade by the passage of peoples, and the vigilant chronicles of his life and travels, all written in characteristic, widely admired, prose.

At 17, he won a Trinidad Government scholarshi...more
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“His ignorance seemed to widen with everything he read.” 25 likes
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