sixty-seven.

A House for Mr Biswas by V.S Naipaul (1961)
 But bigger than them all was the house, his house. How terrible it would have been, at this time, to be without it: to have died among the Tulsis, amid the squalor of that large, disintegrating and indifferent family; to have left Shama and the children among them, in one room; or worse, to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one’s portion of the earth; to have lived and died as one had been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated.”

Mr Biswas’ mother was told to keep him away from water by the Hindu pundit whom told his future. Yet Mr Biswas seeks water which eventually leads to his father’s death. Mr Biswas comes from a poor family, and he is sent to various jobs without much luck. He eventually gets a job painting signs for a rich family and he falls in love with one of their daughters.

Marrying the girl, Shama, means marrying the family. And the Tulsis are the in-laws from hell. Mr Biswas has to live with them and work for them for very little money and bad food. All he wants is to be able to build or buy a house for his family.

V.S Naipaul impressed me with a Bend in the River, and a House for Mr Biswas is also a great read. I really enjoyed reading about Indian descendants in Trinidad and Tobago. This book wasn’t as comic as the cover made it to be, but it definitely put me in a good mood. I have already put more of his books on my wish list.

thirty-six.

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979)

“Small things can start us off in new ways of thinking, and I was started off by the postage stamps of our area. The British administration gave us beautiful stamps. These stamps depicted local scenes and local things; there was one called “Arab Dhow”. It was as though, in those stamps, a foreigner had said, ‘This is what is most striking about this place’. Without that stamp of the dhow I might have taken the dhows for granted. As it was, I learned to look at them. Whenever I saw them tied up at the waterfront I thought of them as something peculiar to our region, quaint, something the foreigner would remark on, something not quite modern, and certainly nothing like the liners and cargo ships that berthed in their own modern docks”

Salim grows up on somewhere on the East Coast of Africa, but his ancestors came from India. Looking to get away from the place, he buys a shop in a city by a bend in the river in the heart of Africa. He arrives in the midst of decolonisation. He watches the city growing, first slowly and then very rapidly under the new government. The new president (or Big Man) must be popular, his face and people are everywhere. Salim admires him and ignores the signs that tell him to leave while he still can.

I could quote every passage from this book. It is a marvellous story about post-colonial Africa and feeling out of place. In some ways the writing style and theme reminded me of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but I definitely liked this book better.