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A House for Mr Biswas

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  13,351 Ratings  ·  562 Reviews
Mohun Biswas has spent his 46 years of life striving for independence. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning of his father, he yearns for a place he can call home. He marries into the Tulsi family, on whom he becomes dependent, but rebels and takes on a succession of occupations in a struggle to weaken their hold over him."
Paperback, 623 pages
Published 2003 by Picador (first published 1961)
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Paul Bryant
Dec 12, 2011 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: someone who's already decided to read it
Shelves: novels
This one might make you pull your hair out. So if you're already bald you may need to read it wearing a wig. Also, you need a magnifying glass to find the plot. I had to take samples & send them off to a lab. Apparently there are detectable traces of story in here. But not so's you'd notice.


The whole thing is a slow, ponderous crawl through the life of a Mr Third World Nobody who gets married by accident and appears to have four kids also by accident, without having any sex as far as I co
Apr 20, 2008 Rebecca rated it really liked it
A life, from start to finish.

This is a book for adults--people who have struggled continually to figure out how to live their lives, people who have dealt with the opposing forces of obligation to family and the desire for independence.

It's not a page-turner--and I admire that. There are satisfactions to be found in reading besides wanting to know what happens--the ever-changing balance of power in families; the slight accidents that change lives forever; the mulled-over decisions which change
Jan 20, 2011 Praj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There it is, a modest roofed structure in Sikkim Street standing tall amid the perfumed beds of anthurium lilies. New memories of wet earth after the rain, freshly painted picket fences, the sweet flowers of laburnum tree, mixed aromas flouncing through the warm rooms and wind whiffing through the trees telescoping the painful past. A sense of belonging cherished with merited identity-Mr. Mohun Biswas’s house.

I shy away from the postcolonial contemporary third world fiction. Most of them overwhe
Only pick this book up if you wish to slog through more than 600 pages filled with the bickering, moans and wailing of a large Indo-Trinidadian family. A Nobel Prize winner that disappoints. The plot is minimal, and the humor not to my taste. It bored me to such an extent that I have no desire to more fully explain. When a book is this boring there is just nothing to say.

After 144 pages: On the back cover Newsweek and Anthony Burgess speak of the book's "comic insight and power". What are they
There’s something about owning a property that taps deep into our psyche. That feeling of calling four walls and a roof your very own speaks to a sense, not just of ownership, but of belonging. The first time I bought an apartment and walked into it, decorated to my own taste, there was an atavistic sense of laying claim to some intangible sense of “me”.

It is this search for a sense of identity and belonging that underpins Naipaul’s story of Mohun Biswas. Because his search for a house to call
Fun fact touching on both V.S. Naipaul and the James Bond movies. Did you know that A House for Mr. Biswas was once in production as a Broadway musical? The following quote is from the obituary of songwriter John Barry, The New York Times, 2 Feb. 2011:
The origins of the James Bond theme are disputed. Mr. Norman [Barry's biographer] said that Barry brushed off a musical passage from “Bad Sign, Good Sign,” a song he had written for a musical version of the V. S. Naipaul novel A House for Mr. Biswa
Ben Thurley
Apr 22, 2013 Ben Thurley rated it it was amazing
A hugely enjoyable, though simultaneously excruciating, novel. Naipaul has created a character in Mohun Biswas who is, at once, deeply unsympathetic – prone to minor spites, absurd self-regard, and the petty enactment of drawn-out and demeaning grudges against those nearest to him –but whose struggle to assert his independence, identity and worth against the odds (even against the fate outlined for him at birth) is utterly compelling.

The descriptions of family life, of community, and of the nat
Sonia Gomes
Oct 27, 2012 Sonia Gomes rated it it was amazing
All that Mr. Biswas wants is respect, not money, not love, not recognition just respect……
Born in Trinidad in a poor home he is tricked into marrying Shama Tulsi daughter of the well known, very rich Tulsi House, all because he had had the temerity to write ‘I love you’ on a scrap of paper and hand it over to her. Although warned by many he persists in marrying her.
Everyone knows that the Tulsis are on lookout for drones for their daughters, once married the husbands become their property. They
Tanuj Solanki
Feb 19, 2013 Tanuj Solanki rated it it was amazing
'The world is what it is,' and so is Trinidad

While Naipaul may seem to be copying the modality of the nineteenth century novel, his main intention here is to construct a self-propagating comic system (in a post-colonial set-up). And he succeeds marvelously in that. The Naipaul system: layered through family, religion, poverty, national identity issues, third-world-ism, third-world journalism and, last but not the least, third-world individuality, is a triumph of twentieth century literature. Inc
Chad Bearden
May 21, 2009 Chad Bearden rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
"Biswas" is my kind of novel. Some complain that it is a bit meandering and aimless, and this is true to an extent. But what the book aims to accomplish (I suspect) is not to give the reader some nice and tidy story with a beginning, middle, and end. Naipaul is aiming for something far more epic: to describe a man's life. He literally starts with Biswas's birth and tracks this willful, sad, cocky man's life all the way to his death. The fact that Biswas's life is full of the mundane does not mak ...more
Aug 10, 2014 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"So later, and very slowly, in securer times of different stresses, when the memories had lost the power to hurt, with pain or joy, they would fall into place and give back the past." - Page 557

Found near the very end of the novel, this little gem of a sentence is not only a beautiful and evocative bit of prose in it's own right (which it certainly is), but also seems to me a perfect key to understanding Naipaul's wonderful novel about Mohun Biswas, a most unfortunate man trying to get by in pos
Feb 22, 2014 Judy rated it really liked it

V S Naipaul's fourth novel is his longest so far. Still mining the Trinidadian Indian Hindu community amid which he grew up, the locations, people, traditions, the Pundits and the strivers, the remnants of the Indian caste system, are all in play. Having read all four books, I swear I feel as though I know these people well.

This is a more somber book. Some humor remains but it felt as though Naipaul's affection for his people had waned. The story covers the entire life of Mr Biswas from his birt
Aug 16, 2013 Asha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Only Patient readers!
Shelves: indian-lit, 2012
This book does a quite a fair job in yelling out to its readers why owning a house for many mostly remains just a dream. If you have a dream of maybe finding that diamond in the coal mines, or traveling to moon or mars or walking around the world, you might still achieve those, or hope to. But if you dream about owning a house, you might as well just dream.

It is not just inexhaustibly difficult today but was nearly equally impossible even in those days when people earned $10/month(as Mr. Biswas
May 06, 2007 Preeta rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who like South Asian diaspora literature and flinty prose.
The Trinidadian-English dialogue is just brilliant, and the people are all so tragic and hilarious at the same time, and Mr. Biswas is called Mr. Biswas from the time he is BORN. How can you beat that? Even if you think Naipaul's politics stink, there's no denying this book is a masterpiece.
محمد الحمراوي
أحلام السيد بيسواس لم تكن كبيرة ، فهو لم يحلم بأكثر من الزواج من فتاة يعيش معها الحياة التي رآها في الكتب ممكنة ، ثم أنه تمنّى أن تكون له مهنة تناسب طموحاته ، ثم أنه تمنّى أن يحظى بالإحترام ، ثم أخيراً تمنّى أن يكون له بيت ؛ بيت يكون له بمثابة الوطن ، يحتضنه حين تقسو عليه الدنيا ، ويستطيع أن يحتمي بجدرانه من غدرها ، وأن يبكي دون أن يصل بكاؤه إلى سمع أحد .

أحلام عادية ، لم يكن من المستحيل تحقيقها لو لم يكن يعيش في دولة من دول العالم الثالث الغارقة في ظلمات الخرافة ، لا تؤمن بأن ولادة طفل في منتصف
Feb 03, 2016 Jocelyn marked it as adding-to-my-shelf-just-cause
EDIT: Just found out that this author is a racist who thinks “Africans need to be kicked – that’s the only thing they understand.”

He's also an abuser who violently beat his mistress and thought it was a sign of his passion for her.

(Thanks to this review for the links.)

I wish I could find the following quoted comments funny, but people get hurt because of people like Naipaul's bigotry. The fact that he can dismiss an entire sex and an entire race of people indicates a social system that supports
Heather Moore
Jun 22, 2007 Heather Moore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had the greatest connection with what Mr. Biswas was going through. It helped me to find peace with the truth that what is perfect for one person does not actually have to be perfect, it just has to be theirs.
Jun 17, 2013 Alan rated it it was amazing
This, my first Naipaul, and probably his best, though no more hilarious than Miguel Street. Many of his later books are non-fiction, like Among the Believers, A Tour in the South, or even The Loss of El Dorado. Here, Hanuman House is everybody's nightmare mother-in-law's. The name evokes the Hindu god of war, a common stereotype of the mother-in-law made new in its witty application to the family home. Since Hanuman House holds all the in-laws, including brothers-in-law and Biswas' wife's nieces ...more
Jul 25, 2009 rated it liked it
I read this book when I was about 30. This book is really for a very mature audience, for people who have experienced life. The main character is mercurial in a sense. We all at some point in our lives become anxious with life, that we should be more than what we turned out to be. For some people, this is an obsession. When we hit mid-life, there's an urgency to achieve what we dreamed of when we were younger but never achieved. For Mr. Biswas, since there is no way he will be anything more, a h ...more
Johnny D
Sep 27, 2012 Johnny D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Knowing virtually nothing about this book before I opened it, it took me some time to adjust to it. You see, this is not a drama or an adventure, it is the story of one man’s life. Once I became used to the idea that this book would not have a traditional plot, that it was a darkly humourous take on the life of the “little man”, I was immediately engrossed. Mr. Biswas is an unlikeable chap. He repeatedly embarrasses himself, he is weak, he is temperamental, he strikes out irrationally at those c
Mar 23, 2007 Aaron rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Living legend V.S. Naipaul's masterpiece. This anti-bildungsroman traces the protagonist (supposedly based on Naipaul's father) from being "born wrong" to his tragic but timely death. The sweep and detail of the novel will amaze you, but it's not for the faint-of-heart: Mohun Biswas is not a likeable character, and the circumstances of his life (post-colonial Trinidad) are difficult. Put aside your judgements of him and let yourself get caught up in the story. You won't be disappointed.
Simon Mcleish
Aug 20, 2012 Simon Mcleish rated it really liked it

Like A Bend in the River, a large part of A House for Mr Biswas is about the search for roots in the post-colonial world. Mohun Biswas spends his entire life looking for a place to live which feels like his own, something which is already complicated by his place in the large Indian community in Trinidad. He is poor but of high caste, and this gives him strange relationships with the people around him, especially when he marries into the Tulsi family, rich but of low caste and trying not to beco
Oct 24, 2011 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This if the fourth Naipaul I have read, and it is probably my least favourite. Which is somewhat surprising, since this is one of the books usually listed as among his best.

I did like it. The characters are fun and engaging. The story kept me interested, and I read the book every chance I got.

But it did have some flaws. Trying to be Dickensian, there is too much going on. Too many characters, too many subplots, too many episodes of the plot that make the same points and delay developments. His m
Dec 28, 2012 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the last book I anticipate finishing in 2012 andit required more then a bit of effort but in the end I am glad I took the time to read this 560 page narrative about life in the Indian colony living in Trinidad in the years immediately before and after World War II. Mr Biswas is modeled after Naipaul's own father and he is an interesting character. An agnostic Hindu he struggles through out his life to earn a living and a life while living withby his wife's relative's the Tulsi clan.
Alejandro Canton-Dutari
Mar 08, 2013 Alejandro Canton-Dutari rated it it was amazing
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
Reviewed by Alex Canton-Dutari
I always try to spot a special detail by Nobel Prize Winners -- in this case Trinidad and Tobago's Nobel Prize Literature Winner.
The Prologue prepares the reader for learning about the life of Mr Mohum Biswas. Right from the beginning the author refers to Mohun as Mr Biswas beginning when he was a baby and on to the end.
This novel exposes the reader to life in the Caribbean islands-country during the early days of World War II.
Apr 25, 2012 Abdul rated it it was amazing
My favourite novel to date.

For those who are giving this book bad reviews... this might be helpful:

I highly doubt that Mr. Naipaul’s primary goal in this book was to entertain or teach anyone about Indo-Trinidadian culture. I have to say, though, there’s plenty to learn in this book about the latter. Primarily, this is the story of one Mohun Biswas, who was born the wrong way and with an extra finger. The childhood of Mr. Biswas was very interesting, especially to someone who’s ever walked to sc
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Ok, I've spent over 4 days with this and am nearly halfway, but I'm going to cut my losses. I was hoping for something more like A Fine Balance, and since Naipaul has won a few awards, including the Nobel, I thought I could expect something more than what it is.

I just looked at a couple of reviews (both a 4-star and a 2-star) and it just isn't going to get better. I've said many times that I really like my life, but it isn't very interesting in the retelling. This was the story of the life of M
Jan 10, 2016 PR rated it it was amazing
Part of me wants to say that this is something like all of the Rabbit series mashed down into one sprawling book and set in Trinidad among people of Indian descent, but that's so reductive, and kind of an insult.

Mr Biswas is so painfully human, struggling to have a meaningful life, fucking up left and right, being brutalized and brutalizing in turn. This was the first book that I've read in a long time that I read for pleasure, because I wanted to, instead of because I thought it would be edify
Ravi Gangwani
Jun 20, 2016 Ravi Gangwani rated it it was amazing
So Mr.Biswas was very overwhelmed when some one offered him a holiday-trip. He had always regarded holiday simply as days on which he did not go to work; he had never thought that he might use the time to take his family to some resort. The thing was BEYOND his ambition.

Thus, I finally read VS Naipaul, and after finishing it I must say he is an Indian (though Indian-origin) version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or JM Coetzee.

This book was legendary, cut to cut : starts from Mr Biswas's birth and end
Peter Zalmayev
Jul 21, 2015 Peter Zalmayev rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
poor ole' Biswas
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Pre-Reading Opinion 1 27 Mar 31, 2008 08:25AM  
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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 about V.S. Naipaul...

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“He read political books. They gave him phrases which he could only speak to himself and use on Shama. They also revealed one region after another of misery and injustice and left him feeling more helpless and more isolated than ever. Then it was that he discovered the solace of Dickens. Without difficulty he transferred characters and settings to people and places he knew. In the grotesques of Dickens everything he feared and suffered from was ridiculed and diminished, so that his own anger, his own contempt became unnecessary, and he was given strength to bear the most difficult part of his day: dressing in the morning, that daily affirmation of faith in oneself, which at times for him was almost like an act of sacrifice.” 20 likes
“In his original design the solicitor's clerk seemed to have forgotten the need for a staircase to link both the floors, and what he had provided had the appearance of an afterthought. Doorways had been punched in the eastern wall and a rough wooden staircase - heavy planks on an uneven frame with one warped unpainted banister, the whole covered with a sloping roof of corrugated iron - hung precariously at the back of the house, in striking contrast with the white-pointed brickwork of the front, the white woodwork and the frosted glass of doors and windows.
For this house Mr.Biswas had paid five thousand five hundred dollars.”
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