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Half a Life    by V. S. Naipaul order for
Half a Life
by V. S. Naipaul
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

This novel provides much food for thought. Nobel Prize winner Naipaul takes us to three continents to see how people who are outside the mainstream live, and how this affects a man named Willie. Born in India of a Brahmin father and a low-caste mother, Willie comes to know his parents' dislike for each other and the heartaches for each caused by the rigid society in which they live.

When Willie goes to England, his experiences there are not much different, as he makes the acquaintance of others of mixed racial background. He does realize that he can reinvent himself since he is away from his home, and he proceeds to do so by becoming a writer. But this too is not satisfying. Then he meets a woman who seems to understand him, as she too is of mixed racial parentage, Portuguese and African. Willie goes to Africa with her, and is again caught up in the life of people who suffer because of their varied parentage. In the end he decides to leave Africa to live with his sister, perhaps a return to his own roots.

The book is flawlessly written but nevertheless frustrating because Willie is so passive about everything. Nothing is very clear; characters and events appear like a chimera. We are not really made to understand what it is like to exist in these conditions. Half a Life is an important book because it gives much food for thought and discussion, but in itself it is not the most satisfying read.

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