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Craig's Book Club
Book Recommendations

Spotlight on: The Mystic Masseur by V.S. Naipaul


To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.


V.S. Naipaul, The Mystic Masseur

I try to keep up with Nobel laureates because I am always looking for good reading, and, often, I have never heard of the authors before. I found The Mystic Masseur in my local used bookstore. I was intrigued that it was his first novel, and I was especially intrigued by the back cover (1980 paperback edition). There was a quote that comes early in the book:

"Leela," Ganesh said, "the boy want to know how much book it have here."

"Let me see," Leela said... "Four hundred Everyman, two hundred Penguin--six hundred. Six hundred, and one hundred Reader's Library, make seven hundred. I think with all the other book it have about fifteen hundred good book here."

Up in the upper right corner was the symbol of Penguin Publishing. It struck me funny that they would be so bold as to use a quote from the book that so blatantly plugs their line as being "good books" that I had to buy it.

And it's actually quite good. The Mystic Masseur is not just well-written, it's funny, something I was not expecting. I'm glad I began my Naipaul reading with this one. I believe it seems to be the consensus to begin with A House for Mr Biswas, but, to me, that would be like starting John Irving with A Prayer for Owen Meany -- there's really nowhere to go but down.

The story concerns Ganesh a man from Trinidad who fails as a teacher, then as a masseur (he seems to hurt more than he helps), but then finally finds his calling as a healing mystic, all along keeping his one vice--books. Throughout his life he writes books, starting with 101 Questions and Answers about Hinduism. Here is a sample:

Question one: What is Hinduism?
Answer: Hinduism is the religion of the Hindu people.
Question two: Why am I a Hindu?
Answer: Because your parents and grandparents were Hindus.
And so on. Ganesh's book career does not really take off until he reaches fame as a mystic. Then he writes his autobiography, which becomes a best-seller, relatively speaking.

It's hard to tell how Naipaul feels about his characters sometimes. He often seems to be making fun of them, yet also shows great affection for them. However he feels, I had a marvelous time visiting the characters in The Mystic Masseur and will definitely pick up another Naipaul work in the future.


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