Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The Mystic Masseur, V S Naipaul, Alfred A Knopf, 1957, 171 pp

 This is Naipaul's first novel, which I found at my local library in a volume of his first three novels. Apparently Naipaul has had two phases in his writing: an early comic vision of which The Mystic Masseur is an example and a later disturbing darker period. 

  V S Naipaul was born in Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean, to which his grandfather had come from India. The island is a polyglot of races, nationalities and languages and has been ruled by various European nations since the 15th century. After slavery was abolished, the plantation owners brought in indentured labor from India.

 Naipaul uses a combination of humor, magical realism and scenes from Indian/Hindu immigrant life to describe the coming of age of Ganesh Ramsumair, an orphan who makes it through some college education, fails as a school teacher and returns to his native village. In an effort to support his wife, he takes up healing as a masseur, though he is a complete quack. Mostly he studies the books he acquires, lining his walls and gaining knowledge until he gains fame as the "pundit."

 The Indians from India who reside in Trinindad comprise a tightly knit and enclosed culture with their own foods, customs and competitions. Ganesh finally rises in the world and enters politics only to find disillusionment in the end. Naipaul's writing is lively and robust but I can't fully agree that his vision is comic. He makes some fun of his own people but what comes through is a rueful account of life as second class citizens in a post colonial world.

(The Mystic Masseur is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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