Summary of Half a Life by VS Naipaul

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In this article, we are introducing a summary of Half of Life written by VS Naipaul. We hope the short summary will help you understand what the novel is about.

How does Half a Life by VS Naipaul begin?

The novel begins with Willie‘s question to his father about why his middle name is Somerset. His father replies that he is named after a great English writer Somerset Maugham whom he first met in the 1930s in India when he was doing penance and living under a vow of silence. His father recounts the story of over a decade time that how he rejected his education in response to the Mahatma‘s call and married a woman of low caste in the name of sacrifice. Further, his father reveals that he got into the condition of living a life of a mendicant and taking a vow of silence is because of his rejection of his family and tradition.

Summary of Half a Life By VS Naipal
British author V.S. Naipaul at home. Source PBS

The novel recounts the story of Willie Somerset Chandran, the son of a Brahmin father and a Dalit mother who is frustrated by his split parental identity and this realization evokes him to dream of his own distinct identity. Willie leaves his motherland in search of himself and imagines a world where his past could not haunt him and live a life pretending to be someone he is not.

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Willie first goes to England to study in the 1950s.  He enters into the world which is completely a foreign one. When he reaches there, he immediately realizes that he is worse than a child in English society although he is well schooled in English language and literature and there is no one to help him. Willie’s dreams get shattered as he fumbles for friendship, for sex, and for acceptance.

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Recapitulation of a synopsis: Half a Life by VS Naipaul

Willie also writes a book and manages to publish it but he turns out to be an unsuccessful writer. His failure to meet his expectation forces him to abandon his ambition and lives a life in despair. In the course of time, he receives a letter from his fan Ana, a mixed Portuguese and black African girl. She is very much influenced by his book and admires it. As time passes they fall in love with each other.

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Willie eventually follows Ana to his Portuguese colony of Mozambique in Africa as he feels he could get there in Africa that he is looking for. In this way, he travels to London from India and to Africa from London. He lives in Africa and settled down with Ana for 18 years. That said, he remains unsatisfied with his life even in Africa.  Some nasty conflict arises in their relationship leading them to the condition of separation from each other. After the separation, Willie moves to Berlin where his sister Sarojini has been living for years marrying a German.

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