Naipaul’s Magic Seeds

Lester Pimentel reviews V.S. Naipaul’s Magic Seeds, in PopMatters.

“It is wrong to have an ideal view of the world. That’s where the mischief starts. That’s where everything starts unraveling.” The apercu belongs to Willie Chandran, the peripatetic protagonist of V.S. Naipaul’s latest novel Magic Seeds. More than his other works, this didactic cautionary tale about the perils of utopianism crystallizes Naipaul’s essentially conservative worldview.

Naipaul’s transformation — from avatar of post-colonial angst to Thatcherite apostle — mirrors Willie’s own ideological peregrination. The political has always been personal in Willie’s life. He is, after all, the child of a politically inspired union, as we learned in Half a Life (2001). Moved by Gandhi’s calls for a life of sacrifice and the rejection of old values, Willie’s Brahmin father marries a lower-caste woman for whom he feels nothing but repulsion. The father’s obvious regret and disdain, combined with the mother’s upper-class pretensions and ambition, make for a miserable marriage. Willie, desperate to get away from such a toxic household, jumps at the opportunity to attend university in England. After fully immersing himself in the hipster culture of 1950s London, Willie meets Ana, a Portuguese-African estate heir whom he weds and follows to a decrepit East African colony (Mozambique). For 18 years, Willie inhabits the “half-and-half world” of “second-rank Portuguese” — the mixed-race ruling class to which his wife belongs. With tribal conflict looming in the wake of a guerilla war that expels the Portuguese colonial regime, Willie, tired of “living my wife’s life,” abruptly breaks off his marriage to Ana.