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Half a Life Half a Life (Willie Chandran #1)

3.23  ·  Rating Details ·  2,711 Ratings  ·  271 Reviews
In a narrative that moves with dreamlike swiftness from India to England to Africa, Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul has produced his finest novel to date, a bleakly resonant study of the fraudulent bargains that makeup an identity.
The son of a Brahmin ascetic and his lower-caste wife, Willie Chandran grows up sensing the hollowness at the core of his father's self-denial and
ebook, 224 pages
Published May 20th 2009 by Vintage Books USA (first published January 1st 2001)
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Sep 12, 2016 Apubakr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
لم تكن علاقتي بأبي جيدة في أي فترة من فترات حياتي . وعلى الرغم من ذلك لم أحمل له أي ضغينة قط.
ذكرتني هذه الرواية به . بالتحديد بيومِ لي معه . وأيامي مع أبي معدودات . لحصرها أصابع اليد الواحدة تكفي وتزيد. لم نكن أبدا أصدقاء ولم يسع أي منا إلى ذلك . على أي حال بتُ أعتقد أن أي أب في نظر أبنائه هو شئ زائد عن الحد . طبعا الى ان يموت .تعود هذه الذكرى إلى زمن لشد ما يحزنني أنه يبدو الأن مغرقا في القدم .
لا أعلم كيف ورطت نفسي في ما ورطت أبي فيه .قضية سياسية غريبة وغير مفهومة جرت أقدامنا إلى الفصل من الكل
Jul 26, 2007 Martin rated it did not like it  ·  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
Nov 26, 2011 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2008 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

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
Aug 19, 2008 Jafar rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Fatima Alammar
Apr 21, 2016 Fatima Alammar rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
4 نجوم لجودة الرواية، ناقص نجمة واحدة بدافع "الضغينة" المحضة.
نصف حياة ليس من الأعمال المبكرة لـ ف. س. نايبول، والتي أثارت الكثير من التحفظات بشأن طريقة تصويره لشعوب العالم الثالث. إنه عمل يوصف بأنه أقل صرامة، ومع ذلك تحلّق طاقة الازدراء التي يتمتع بها الكاتب مثل شبح خفيّ في الرواية. أتخيّل ادوارد سعيد يقرأ بامتعاض سطراً كهذا (بدا العالم الاستعماري المنظم متيناً كالصخر. وكان ذاك هو العالم الذي وجدتُ فيه، أول مرة، القبول التام)، أو (ذاك العالم خرّبه ودمره المسلمون).
يغادر ويلي تشاندران الهند وهو في
Nov 24, 2014 Debbie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sadly I wasn't impressed.

Well.. I don't really say "Meh" but it is fitting so it will be used here.
This is the last book to complete my reading challenge for 2014 and I had hoped to finish out with a bang of a book. This is not it. I picked it because I was curious and I also thought it might be a quick read. Quick, yes. Curious? I was at first. I was flying through. Have you ever read that book that is a page turner until maybe the halfway point and then it takes a turn for the wor
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 David Lentz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 03, 2012 Rob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 15, 2015 Anna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Contrary to all that hype about how amazing the book was, I found it okay. It is a story about an Indian man whose father marries a low caste woman and as a result is ostracized from the society. As the father tells the story about how he married a low caste woman as a sign of sacrifice, young Willie, the son listens to him with great distaste and gradually begins to hate him. As the story unfolds, Naipaul tells us how Willie goes to England and later at Africa.
The story progresses fast and is
May 15, 2007 beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 01, 2012 Melinda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
About 50 pages into this one, I realized I didn't really like it much. Hoping it would get better (after all, it did win a Nobel for literature), I forced myself to plow on. Sadly, it was all but impossible for me to enjoy the story of this insufferably spineless protagonist and his exceptionally uneventful life.
Aug 15, 2016 Fabian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Half a Good Book...
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
I know VS Naipaul is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century and that he won a Nobel Prize for literature. I had read his book, "A Bend in the River", also about Colonial Africa and found it extraordinary and memorable.... This one even more so.

This is a deeply affecting, fictional (apparently semi-autobiographical) narrative about an Indian man who cannot find himself. Having been raised in the conflicted world of a hindu father who intentionally wed a very very low caste wo
Oct 23, 2008 Sai rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Monique Vic
This book didn't impress me that much.
The first bit is quite interesting because it shows the mediocrity of a life lead by events rather than by the character's own drive and this is Will's father part of the story. When he was at University he decided to stand out, abandon his 'privileged' community and follow the lead of Indian personalities such as Gandhi, but he does not have the right temper and this attempt results in a failure.
He burns all his English textbooks in the University's yard, a
Sairam Krishnan
Dec 18, 2013 Sairam Krishnan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Coperta a patra ne ademenește: “Jumătate de viaţă de V.S. Naipaul spune povestea captivantă a lui Willie Chandran…” și ne simțim obligați să subliniem că această apreciere este o gogoașă sfruntată. Povestea jumătății de viață a lui Willie (William Somerset) Chandran este exact opusul captivantului, și dacă am putea înțelege ironia autorului și nevoia lui de a-și îndrepta atenția și scrisul către un personaj cu totul neinteresant, brodând 250 de pagini despre jumătatea lui de viață neinteresantă, ...more
Víctor Sampayo
Jan 06, 2016 Víctor Sampayo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
En una ciudad India de mediados del siglo XX, Willie, hijo de un brahmán que decidió renunciar a su jerarquía social en pos de un extraño sacrificio al casarse con una mujer de la casta más baja, sabe que en su tierra no le espera ningún futuro, por lo que convence a su padre —a quien desprecia profundamente por obsequiarle semejante herencia— de enviarlo a Inglaterra, donde estudiará becado para obtener un título de maestro. Ése será el principio de una reestructuración de su identidad y una re ...more
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
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
Oct 11, 2013 Ajay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 07, 2011 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other-fiction
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
Feb 25, 2013 Joanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 23, 2011 Lorraine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
urgh. This is so ostensibly 'poco'. I didn't 'feel it'. The part on africa was the most well done, but by then I had lost interest in the book. It just seemed dull, lifeless. Not too well written, though not *badly* written. I seemed to see the points very easily; I think it is lauded as being more nuanced than it actually is. Coetzee praised it; praised Naipaul, but I think it is all (some complicated form) of guilt. I see that the prose is meant to chill, but it does not chill me; I am indiffe ...more
Steven Clark
I've always liked Naipaul's books. I read A Bend in the River eight times, and I read Half a Life partly liking it, partly disappointed. Willie is a tepid hero. He is passive, and runs away from things instead of going to them. When in London, Willie observes. When Ana urges him to come to her country, again, he escapes a hopelessness he feels London boxes him into. He reminds me of myself at times, caught in a writer's dilemma.
I see a lot of A Bend in the River. When Willie talks about inventin
Jessie Chen
Just like the telling title, the book depicts the protagonist WIllie's half a life, or even minor.
I gave three stars for the prose is quite easy to follow, and sometimes says something that I have also felt but did not find the words of expression, as a foreign student. But it is hardly to say that I enjoyed reading the novel or it touched me greatly.
In the world presented in the book, everything is half something, and half something else. And it seems people are hardly satisfied with their live
Aug 26, 2015 Mei rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first work of fiction I have read in months, maybe even a year, which is not somehow crime, sci-fi or fantasy related. In my mind I classify VS Naipaul as a 'serious' writer. I can't say that I necessarily 'enjoyed' this book, in the sense that it didn't fill me with joy or raptures or make me feel good. But it reminded me of the sense I get from all his books, a sense of not quite belonging, of feeling displaced and of alienation. His characters are not usually pleasant, they are no ...more
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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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“His ignorance seemed to widen with everything he read.” 39 likes
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