A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas is a 1961 novel by V. S. Naipaul, significant as Naipaul's first work to achieve acclaim worldwide. It is the story of Mohun Biswas, an Indo-Trinidadian who continually strives for success and mostly fails, who marries into the Tulsi family only to find himself dominated by it, and who finally sets the goal of owning his own house. Drawing some elements from the life of Naipaul's father,[2][3] the work is a sharply drawn look at life that uses postcolonial perspectives to view a vanished colonial world.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked A House for Mr Biswas number 72 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005".

A House for Mr Biswas
First edition cover
AuthorV. S. Naipaul
Cover artistStephen Russ[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreContemporary fiction
PublisherAndré Deutsch
Media typePrint


Mohun Biswas is born in rural Trinidad and Tobago to Hindu Indian parents and his father is a Brahmin. His birth was considered inauspicious as he is born "in the wrong way" and with an extra finger. A pundit prophesies that the newborn child "will be a lecher and a spendthrift. Possibly a liar as well", and that he will "eat up his mother and father". The pundit advises that the boy be kept "away from trees and water. Particularly water". A few years later, Mohun leads a neighbour's calf, which he is tending, to a stream. The boy, who has never seen water "in its natural form", becomes distracted and allows the calf to wander off. Mohun then hides in fear of punishment. His father, believing his son to be in the water, drowns in an attempt to save him, thus in part fulfilling the pandit's prophecy. This leads to the dissolution of the family. Mohun's sister is sent to live with a wealthy aunt and uncle, Tara and Ajodha. Mohun, his mother, and two older brothers go to live with other relatives.

The boy is withdrawn prematurely from school and apprenticed to a pundit, but is cast out on bad terms. Ajodha then puts him in the care of his alcoholic and abusive brother Bhandat, an arrangement which also ends badly. Finally, the young Mr Biswas decides to make his own fortune. He encounters a friend from his school days who helps him get into the business of sign-writing. While on the job, Mr Biswas attempts to romance a client's daughter but his advances are misinterpreted as a wedding proposal. He is drawn into a marriage which he does not have the nerve to stop and becomes a member of the Tulsi household.

Mr Biswas becomes very unhappy with his wife Shama and her overbearing family. The Tulsis (and the big decaying house where they live) represent the communal way of life which is traditional throughout Africa and Asia. Mr Biswas is offered a place in this cosmos, a subordinate place to be sure, but a place that is guaranteed and from which advancement is possible. But Mr Biswas wants more. He is, by instinct, a modern man. He wants to be the author of his own life. That is an aspiration with which Tulsis cannot deal, and their decaying world conspires to drag him down.[4] Despite his poor education, Mr Biswas becomes a journalist, has four children with Shama, and attempts several times to build a house that he can call his own, a house which will symbolize his independence. Mr Biswas’ desperate struggle to acquire a house of his own can be linked to an individual’s need to develop an authentic identity. He feels that only by having his own house he can overcome his feelings of rootlessness and alienation.


This novel is generally regarded as Naipaul's most significant work and is credited with launching him into international fame and renown.

Time magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005".[5]


The novel was later adapted as a stage musical, with compositions by Monty Norman. One of the songs written for the play, "Good Sign, Bad Sign", was later rewritten as the "James Bond Theme", according to the documentary Inside Dr. No.

A two-part radio dramatisation, featuring Rudolph Walker, Nitin Ganatra, Nina Wadia, and Angela Wynter ran on BBC Radio Four on March 26 and April 2, 2006.

External links


  1. ^ Bound books - a set on Flickr
  2. ^ Kumar, Amitava (2002-01-01). Bombay--London--New York. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415942119.
  3. ^ Hayward, Helen (2002-01-01). The Enigma of V S Naipaul: Sources and Contexts. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403902542.
  4. ^ Selwyn Cudjoe, V.S. Naipaul: A Materialist Reading, University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, p. 71. See also Kenneth Ramchand, "The West Indies", in Bruce King, Literatures of the World in English, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974, p. 206.
  5. ^ "All-TIME 100 Novels: How We Picked the List". TIME.com. Retrieved 2016-07-05.
1969 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1969.

A Flag on the Island

A Flag on the Island is a collection of short stories written by V.S. Naipaul, and first published by André Deutsch in 1967. It includes the title novella, "A Flag on the Island," outtakes from previous books such as "The Enemy", from Miguel Street, and pieces published in periodicals in Britain or the United States. The book is dedicated to Diana Athill.

A Turn in the South

A Turn in the South is a travelogue of the American South written by Nobel Prize-winning writer V. S. Naipaul. The book was published in 1989 and is based upon the author's travels in the southern states of the United States.

Naipaul has written fiction and non-fiction about life in the Caribbean, India, Africa and South America. In this book the subject is the U.S., including South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, et cetera. He discusses topics such as Martin Luther King, the economy, technology, industrialization, tourism, religion, rednecks and racism. The book works to compare the American South to its geographical neighbors, the nations of the Caribbean.

A Way in the World

A Way in the World is a 1994 book by Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul. Although it was marketed as a novel in America, A Way in the World which consists of linked narratives, is arguably something different.

Among the Believers

Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey is a book by the Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul.

Published in 1981, the book describes a six-month journey across the Asian continent after the Iranian Revolution. V.S. Naipaul explores the culture and the explosive situation in countries where Islamic fundamentalism was growing. His travels start with Iran, on to Pakistan, Malaysia and end in Indonesia, with a short stop in Pakistan and Iran on the return to the UK.

An Area of Darkness

An Area of Darkness is a book written by V. S. Naipaul in 1964. It is a travelogue detailing Naipaul's trip through India in the early sixties. It was the first of Naipaul's acclaimed Indian trilogy which includes India: A Wounded Civilization and India: A Million Mutinies Now. The narration is anecdotal and descriptive.

A deeply pessimistic work, An Area of Darkness conveys the acute sense of disillusionment which the author experiences on his first visit to his ancestral land. The book was immediately banned in India for its "negative portrayal of India and its people".

Anita Rau Badami

Anita Rau Badami (born 24 September 1961) is a writer of South Asian descent living in Canada. Born in Rourkela, Odisha, India, she was educated at the University of Madras and Sophia Polytechnic in Bombay. She emigrated to Canada in 1991, and earned an M.A. at the University of Calgary. Her first novel was Tamarind Mem (1997).

Her novels deal with the complexities of Indian family life and with the cultural gap that emerges when Indians move to the west.

Badami's third novel, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call explores the Golden Temple Massacre and the Air India Bombing.

Badami cites as among her favourite books Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, Cat's Eye and Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, A House for Mr Biswas by V. S. Naipaul and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.

In 2015 Badami was writer-in-residence at Athabasca University in Edmonton. In 2016 The Hero's Walk was listed as one of the five finalists for the CBC Canada Reads competition.

In 2017, Badami was announced as chair of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury.

Guerrillas (novel)

Guerrillas is a 1975 novel by V. S. Naipaul. The book is set on an unnamed, remote Caribbean island populated by a mix of ethnicities, but dominated by post-colonial British. Probably the island is modelled after Trinidad, Naipaul's birthplace.

Half a Life (novel)

Half a Life is a 2001 novel by Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul published by Alfred A. Knopf. The novel is set in India, Africa and Europe (London, Berlin and Portugal). Half a Life was long listed for the Man Booker prize (2001).

Magic Seeds

Magic Seeds is a 2004 novel by Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul published by Alfred A. Knopf (US). The novel is set in India and Europe (Berlin and London).

Miguel Street

Miguel Street is a collection of linked short stories by V. S. Naipaul set in wartime Trinidad and Tobago. The stories draw on the author's childhood memories of Port of Spain. The street of the title appears to be a fictionalized version of Luis Street where the author lived with his family in the 1940s. As well as writing about the Hindu community to which he belongs, Naipaul references black culture including a number of calypso lyrics which relate to the themes of the book.

The Middle Passage (book)

The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies - British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America is a 1962 book-length essay / travelogue by V. S. Naipaul. It is his first book-length work of non-fiction. It has the sub-title "The Caribbean Revisited".

The book covers a year-long trip through Trinidad, British Guiana, Suriname, Martinique, and Jamaica in 1961. As well as giving his own impressions, Naipaul refers to the work of earlier travellers such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, who described a similar itinerary in The Traveller's Tree (1950). Naipaul addresses a range of topics including the legacy of slavery and colonialism, race relations, the roles of South Asian immigrants in the various countries, and differences in language, culture, and economics.

The Suffrage of Elvira

The Suffrage of Elvira is a comic novel by V. S. Naipaul set in colonial Trinidad. It was written in 1957, and was published in London the following year. It is a satire of the democratic process and the consequences of political change, published a few years before Trinidad and Tobago achieved independence in 1962.

V. S. Naipaul

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul TC (; 17 August 1932 – 11 August 2018), most commonly known as V. S. Naipaul, and informally, Vidia Naipaul, was a Trinidadian-British writer of works of fiction and nonfiction in English. He is known for his comic early novels set in Trinidad, his bleaker later novels of the wider world, and his vigilant chronicles of life and travels. He wrote in prose that was widely admired, but his views sometimes aroused controversy. He published more than thirty books over fifty years.

Naipaul won the Booker Prize in 1971 for his novel In a Free State. In 1989, he was awarded the Trinity Cross, Trinidad and Tobago's highest national honour. He received a knighthood in Britain in 1990, and in 2001, the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In the late 19th century, Naipaul's grandparents had emigrated from India to work in Trinidad's cocoa plantations as indentured servants. His breakthrough novel A House for Mr Biswas was published in 1961. On the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, he dedicated it to Patricia Anne Hale, to whom he was married from 1955 until her death in 1996, and who had served as first reader, editor, and critic of his writings.

Works by V. S. Naipaul

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