A House for Mr. Biswas

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A House for Mr. Biswas

by V.s. Naipaul

Knopf Canada | February 11, 2003 | Trade Paperback

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In his forty-six short years, Mr. Mohun Biswas has been fighting against destiny to achieve some semblance of independence, only to face a lifetime of calamity. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning death of his father, for which he is inadvertently responsible, Mr. Biswas yearns for a place he can call home. But when he marries into the domineering Tulsi family on whom he indignantly becomes dependent, Mr. Biswas embarks on an arduous -- and endless -- struggle to weaken their hold over him, and purchase a house of his own.

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: February 11, 2003

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676975623

ISBN - 13: 9780676975628

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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– More About This Product –

A House for Mr. Biswas

by V.s. Naipaul

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: February 11, 2003

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676975623

ISBN - 13: 9780676975628

Read from the Book

I. Pastoral Shortly before he was born there had been another quarrel between Mr Biswas''s mother Bipti and his father Raghu, and Bipti had taken her three children and walked all the way in the hot sun to the village where her mother Bissoondaye lived. There Bipti had cried and told the old story of Raghu''s miserliness: how he kept a check on every cent he gave her, counted every biscuit in the tin, and how he would walk ten miles rather than pay a cart a penny. Bipti''s father, futile with asthma, propped himself up on his string bed and said, as he always did on unhappy occasions, ''Fate. There is nothing we can do about it.'' No one paid him any attention. Fate had brought him from India to the sugar-estate, aged him quickly and left him to die in a crumbling mud hut in the swamplands; yet he spoke of Fate often and affectionately, as though, merely by surviving, he had been particularly favoured. While the old man talked on, Bissoondaye sent for the midwife, made a meal for Bipti''s children and prepared beds for them. When the midwife came the children were asleep. Some time later they were awakened by the screams of Mr Biswas and the shrieks of the midwife. ''What is it?'' the old man asked. ''Boy or girl?'' ''Boy, boy,'' the midwife cried. ''But what sort of boy? Six-fingered, and born in the wrong way.'' The old man groaned and Bissoondaye said, ''I knew it. There is no luck for me.'' At once, though it was night and the way was lonely, she left the hut and walked t
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From the Publisher

In his forty-six short years, Mr. Mohun Biswas has been fighting against destiny to achieve some semblance of independence, only to face a lifetime of calamity. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning death of his father, for which he is inadvertently responsible, Mr. Biswas yearns for a place he can call home. But when he marries into the domineering Tulsi family on whom he indignantly becomes dependent, Mr. Biswas embarks on an arduous -- and endless -- struggle to weaken their hold over him, and purchase a house of his own.

About the Author

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction and the recipient of numerous honours, including the Nobel Prize in 2001, the Booker Prize in 1971, and a knighthood for services to literature in 1990. He lives in Wiltshire, England.

Editorial Reviews

“A marvelous prose epic that matches the best nineteenth-century novels for richness of comic insight, and final, tragic power.” -- Newsweek

Bookclub Guide

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction and the recipient of numerous honours, including the Nobel Prize in 2001, the Booker Prize in 1971, and a knighthood for services to literature in 1990. He lives in Wiltshire, England.

1. A House for Mr. Biswas is a largely autobiographical novel about V.S. Naipaul''s own family. Mr. Biswas is based on Naipaul''s father and the character of Anand on Naipaul himself. What specific experiences described in the novel, and especially the relationship between father and son, lead Anand to become a writer? What advantages will he have that Mr. Biswas did not? What conclusions can you draw about Naipaul''s life based on the book?

2. Mr. Biswas enters into the world "six-fingered and born in the wrong way" [p. 15], and a life of bad luck is presaged for him. In what ways does this prophecy seem to come true?

3. Early in the novel, Mr. Biswas, a sign-painter and later a journalist, writes a love letter to Shama. What are the immediate consequences of this letter? What are its long-term effects? Is it ironic that writing plays such an important role in determining Mr. Biswas''s fate?

4. At various points the narrative jumps ahead, describing an experience or situation years from the fictional present. When Mr. Biswas is cowed by the Tulsi family into marrying Shama, the narrator reflects, "How often, in the years to come, at Hanuman House or in the house at Shorthills or in the house in Port of Spain, living in one room, with some of his children sleeping on the next bed . . . how often did Mr. Biswas regret his weakness, his inarticulateness, that evening" [p. 87]! How does knowing the novel''s fictional future affect the way we read what is happening in its present? For example, does Mr. Biswas'' death, discussed in the prologue and therefore known throughout the novel, give a poignancy to his struggles?

5. Why do the characters in A House for Mr. Biswas switch between Hindi and broken English? What does this suggest about the hybrid nature of Trinidadian society and its colonial history?

6. Throughout the novel Mr. Biswas battles the Tulsi family, engaging in one quarrel after another. Why does he find living with them so distasteful, so humiliating? Why do the Tulsis, in turn, find Mr. Biswas unbearable? What kinds of things do they argue about? Are the subjects of these arguments inherently important or do mask more serious differences?

7. When Mr. Biswas moves his family to The Chase, he is puzzled by his wife''s nagging: "Living in a wife-beating society, he couldn''t understand why women were even allowed to nag or how nagging could have any effect" [p. 14]. And when Govind beats his wife Chinta, we''re told that "her beatings gave Chinta a matriarchal dignity and, curiously, gained her a respect she had never had before" [p. 443]. Why would Chinta''s status improve because of her beatings? How is flogging used throughout the novel? What does it suggest about power relations between men and women and between parents and children?

8. Why does Mr. Biswas feel trapped by his wife and family? Why does he regard Shama and the children as "alien growths, alien affections, which fed on him and called him away from that part of him which yet remained purely himself, that part which had for long been submerged and was now to disappear" [p. 461]? What kind of life does he feel his family keeps him from living?

9. Why does Mr. Biswas become a journalist? What aspects of his temperament and experience enable him to excel at the kind of writing the Sentinel initially demands? How does his success at the paper change his status within the Tulsi family?

10. Mr. Biswas tells his son Anand, "Remember Galilyo. Always stick up for yourself" [p. 267]. In what ways is Mr. Biswas himself a rebel? On what occasions does he defy others and stand up for himself?

11. Mr. Biswas is highly critical of Hinduism--and indeed of all religions--for most of the novel. He chides Owad for worshiping idols and blames the failure of his shop at The Chase on Hari''s ritual blessing. What does the novel as a whole seem to be saying about the role of religion in Trinidadian society? How does religion affect the ways the characters in the novel treat each other?

12. When Owad returns from his medical studies at Cambridge, he is filled with opinions about writers and artists such as T. S. Eliot and Pablo Picasso, both of whom he loathes. He also considers himself a communist. After a bitter quarrel, Mr. Biswas suggests, "communism, like charity, should begin at home" [p. 533]. What does Naipaul appear to be saying, through the character of Owad and the quality of life at the Tulsi house, about the value of communal living?

13. Naipaul has often been praised for his comic gifts. Which scenes or situations in A House for Mr. Biswas give rise to comedy? In what ways does Mr. Biswas display his own comic and satiric sensibility?

14. In a letter he once wrote to his father, Naipaul explains that literature boils down to "writing from the belly rather than from the cheek. Most people write from the cheek. If the semi-illiterate criminal wrote a long letter ordinarily to his sweetheart, it would be what most letters of such people generally are. If the criminal wrote this letter last thing before his execution, it would be literature; it would be poetry." In what ways does Naipaul himself write from the belly rather than the cheek?

15. A House for Mr. Biswas tells the story of an ordinary man with modest ambitions whose life is not marked by dramatic events. How does Naipaul imbue his story with the pathos and significance that have won the book worldwide acclaim since its initial publication? Does Mr. Biswas achieve a kind of victory at the end?

16. In what ways does Mr. Biswas''s longing for a house of his own parallel Trinidad''s struggle for national independence? What is it that fuels his longing? What does owning a house represent for him? In what ways is the Tulsi family like ruling colonial power? At the end of the novel, Mr. Biswas is finally able to realize his dream of owning a house, but the experience is not what he anticipated. How is his experience symbolic of Trinidad''s own situation after the end of colonial rule?

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