Synopses & Reviews
From the Nobel laureate–a spare, searing new novel about identity and idealism, and their ability to shape or destroy us.
Willie Chandran–whom we first met in Half a Life–is a man in his early forties who has allowed one identity after another to be thrust upon him, as if he could truly know himself by becoming what others imagine him to be. His life has taken him from his native India to England, Africa in its last colonial moment, and Berlin, until finally it returns him to his homeland. Succumbing to the demanding encouragement of his sister–and his own listlessness–Willie joins an underground movement in India ostensibly devoted to unfettering the lower castes. But seven years of revolutionary campaigns and several years in jail convince him that the revolution “had nothing to do with the village people we said we were fighting for…[that] our ideas and words were more important than their lives and their ambitions for themselves.” And, as well, he feels himself further than ever “from his own history and…from the ideas of himself that might have come to him with that history.”
When Willie returns to England where, thirty years before, his psychological and physical wanderings began, he finds the fruit of another unexpected social revolution (more magic seeds), and comes to see himself as a man “serving an endless prison sentence”–a revelation that may finally release him into his true self.
Magic Seeds is a masterpiece, written with all the depth and resonance, the clarity of vision and precision of language, that are the hallmarks of this brilliant writer.
"At the end of Half a Life, Naipaul's previous novel, Willie, a young Indian in late 1950s London, travels to Africa. At the beginning of his new novel, Willie is in Berlin with his bossy sister, Sarojini. It is 18 years later. Revolution has uprooted Willie's African existence. Sarojini hooks him up with a guerrilla group in India, and Willie, always ready to be molded to some cause, returns to India. The guerrillas, Willie soon learns, are 'absolute maniacs.' But caught up, as ever, in the energy of others, Willie stays with them for seven years. He then surrenders and is tossed into the relative comfort of jail. When an old London friend (a lawyer named Roger) gets Willie's book of short stories republished, Willie's imprisonment becomes an embarrassment to the authorities. He is now seen as a forerunner of 'postcolonial writing.' He returns to London, where he alternates between making love to Perdita, Roger's wife, and looking for a job. One opens up on the staff of an architecture magazine funded by a rich banker (who is also cuckolding Roger). Willie's continual betweenness a state that makes him, to the guerrillas, a man 'who looks at home everywhere' is the core theme of this novel, and the story is merely the shadow projected by that theme. Sometimes, especially toward the end of the book, as Willie's story becomes more suburban, there is a penumbral sketchiness to the incidents. At one point, Willie, remarking on the rich London set into which he has been flung, thinks: 'These people here don't understand nullity.' Naipaul does he is a modern master of the multiple ironies of resentment, the claustrophobia of the margins. In a world in which terrorism continually haunts the headlines, Naipaul's work is indispensable. Agent, Gillon Aitken." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"When Naipaul talks, we listen." The Atlantic Monthly
"We expect brilliant thought and sensitive artistry from Naipaul, and once again, we are not disappointed." Booklist (Starred Review)
"This great writer's rhetorical and constructive mastery remain unimpaired. But he's still beating horses so long dead that the stench is becoming overpowering." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] subtle if slender production, a novel that revisits the themes exile,
identity, the precariousness of civilization that [Naipaul's] been grappling with over the past five decades." James Atlas, The New York Times Book Review
A stunning novel of the present moment that takes us into the hearts and minds of those who use terrorism as an ideal and a way of life, and those who aspire to the frightening power of wealth.
Abandoning a life he felt was not his own, Willie Chandran (the hero of Half a Life) moves to Berlin where his sister’s radical political awakening inspires him to join a liberation movement in India. There, in the jungles and dirt-poor small villages, through months of secrecy and night marches, Willie — a solitary, inward man — discovers both the idealism and brutality of guerilla warfare. When he finally escapes the movement, he is imprisoned for the murder of three policemen. Released unexpectedly on condition he return to England, he attempts to climb back into life in the West, but his experience of wealth, love and despair in London only bedevils him further.
Magic Seeds is a moving tale of a man searching for his life and fearing he has wasted it, and a testing study of the conflicts between the rich and the poor, and the struggles within each. Its spare, elegant prose sizzles with devastating psychological analysis, bleak humour and astonishing characters. Only V. S. Naipaul could have written a novel so attuned to the world and so much a challenge to it.
A present-moment novel that takes readers into the hearts and minds of those who use terrorism as an ideal and a way of life, this is a moving tale of a man searching for his life and fearing he has wasted it, and the conflicts between the rich and the poor.
About the Author
V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and A Turn in the South, and a collection of letters, Between Father and Son. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.