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'Half A Life' by V.S. Naipaul

Little gems make up whole of Nobel winner Naipaul's 'Life'

Sunday, November 04, 2001

By John Freeman


Half A Life

By V.S. Naipaul


Countries love to claim their prize winners, however wayward, but it’s unlikely any one particular region will lay claim over V.S. Naipaul when he strides to the podium Dec. 10 to accept the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Naipaul’s own rootlessness has been the driving force behind his body of work. Though born in Trinidad of Indian ancestry, he relates to neither nationality, nor that of their former imperial ruler -- Great Britain -- on whose soil he now makes his home. Naipaul has characterized himself as “content to be a colonial, without a past, without ancestors.”

With a beautiful, stately command of the English language, Naipaul’s fiction charts the evolution of this hybrid identity, from his early novels about life in Trinidad (“The Mystic Masseur”) to his novels of exile (“A Free State”) to his latest book, “Half a Life,” which examines the ghosts of the colonial legacy.

The novel tells the story of Willie Chandran, born in India who, like Naipaul, comes to England for education only to realize that wherever he goes, he will be living only part of a life.

The novel begins in India, where, listening to his father’s stories, young Willie absorbs a dour sense of failure and claustrophobia. In the early 1930s, the elder Chandran rebelled against the caste system by burning his schoolbooks and marrying down.

Calculated to enrage his father, the move backfired as in one fell swoop Chandran became a cause celebre among activists but also more indebted to his father, who bailed him out and secured him a job. Two decades later, Chandran is ensconced in India’s bureaucracy.

Realizing he will share his father’s fate if he stays in India, Willie flees the country for England on scholarship, carrying with him a sense of shame and a powerful urge to conceal his past. In London, he learns the ways of the city from a fellow emigrant, becomes a reporter and dabbles with prostitutes and easy women.

Out of a sense of loneliness, however, he begins writing short stories. Shortly thereafter, when a book has materialized, he is shocked and afraid at how much he has revealed of himself.

“Half a Life” consists of several journeys woven brilliantly into a larger, more restless spiritual one. No matter where he goes, Willie finds himself living only half a life -- both insider and outsider to the culture he adopts.

In the novel’s later section, he takes up with a woman of African descent (a fan of his book), follows her to her African village and stays for 20 years. It is nearing the time of the independence movement on that continent, and Willie figures that in the tumult and chaos he can truly escape his past. Only he finds himself mired once again in it as he discovers traces of his Indian heritage in the colonial furniture around him.

“The glory of the room, though, was furniture. It was of ebony or some black wood and it was intricately carved, so intricately that each piece of wood seemed to have been hollowed out first and then carved on the front and the back. ... It was said to be as old as the house, and it all came, or so a Portuguese official standing beside me said, from Goa in Portuguese India. That was where all that pointless carving had been done. So unexpectedly I found myself very close to home.”

Naipaul has often opined that the novel is dead, by which he means the novel as commonly practiced among today’s contemporary writers has become irrelevant. This book, although labeled a novel, stands aside from its traditions: There is no plot and little narrative arc -- it begins and ends with the same sense of spiritual and cultural desolation -- and it offers no consolation for the loneliness it depicts.

Rather, with magnificent intelligence, it offers a string of gemlike snapshots such as this, moments where the imprisoning latticework of colonial identity rises up and makes itself brutally and indelibly felt.

John Freeman is a New York free-lance writer.

#slshaving1104fn #ed1*#scE#pg9#rd11042001#etBe razor-sharp

For a close shave,

don’t skimp on time

or preparation

By LaMont Jones

Post-Gazette Fashion Editor

The average man’s morning ritual is unfailingly simple: Get up, shower, get dressed, eat, head to work.

While most of these things can be done almost without thinking, some routines deserve more attention.

Consider shaving.

Perhaps no other grooming task is as odious and angst-ridden. We risk cuts, nicks, dryness, irritation, ingrown hairs, razor bumps, infections and acne. And now, thanks to winter’s frigid winds, chapped, cracked and dehydrated skin.

What’s a fellow to do?

First, recognize that effective shaving is an essential part of skin care. It’s worth a few extra minutes to prepare the skin to be shaved, to get the cleanest shave possible and to treat the skin afterward.

“I think if men were more educated on their shaving and really knew the results of a proper shave, the whole experience would be easier,” says Tony Sosnick, founder, president and CEO of Anthony Logistics for Men, a new line of men’s grooming products.

Wet shaving is generally better than dry or electric shaving because it trims hairs closer and promotes more healthful skin. So here’s a guide to wet shaving that, performed faithfully, can radically transform your face in a very short time.


This is the critical first step because it removes dirt and other surface impurities.

“Cleansing is always important before you shave, to clean away all of the dirt and oils that can cause your razor to drag across your face and not to cut the hairs properly, which can result in razor burn, nicks, cuts and ingrown hairs,” says Sosnick.

It’s probably best to shave in the shower because the steam makes the hair soften, and it’s easier to rinse away the hair and product.

But if you’d rather shave at the sink, here’s a technique I use:

Splash your face 30 times with warm water. Yes, 30 is correct. This procedure, created by Hungarian dermatologist Erno Laszlo in the 1930s, benefits the skin in many ways: It hydrates, softens hair, stimulates blood corpuscles for improved circulation and enlarges and cleanses pores of dirt, dead cells and other complexion dullers.

Use a nondetergent bar or liquid soap to wash your face gently with your hands. Don’t rub. Facial skin is the body’s most delicate, and it’s easily damaged.

Try a bar soap formulated specifically for the face. Most liquid soaps contain detergents that keep them liquid. Bars also tend to last longer.

Wet your face with water splashes, then rub the cake of soap lightly across your face. Use wet hands to work up a lather gently, then rinse again with 30 splashes. This procedure is especially beneficial to oily and combination skin.

The hair on your face should be softer now and easier to shave.


Shaving is a form of exfoliation because it helps remove dead skin cells, dirt and oil build-ups from the surface, allowing newer, healthier skin to emerge.

Razor selection is critical. Disposables with two or three blades cost more, but they generally cut closer and cleaner. Make sure blades are sharp to prevent irritation and ingrown hairs.

Rather than using canned foam, try a cream, paste or gel. Because they contain less air, they allow a closer shave. You also have greater control over how much product you use, and you can better see what you’re doing. Some even have natural additives that heal and protect skin.

“The quality of products, as well as how a man shaves, will affect how close a shave he gets, how comfortable a shave he gets and how his skin looks after he gets done shaving,” says Kathy Snyder, a regional education manager for Clinique in Pittsburgh.

After applying the product, shave using one stroke at a time. Rinse the razor under warm water after each stroke to clean the blades of hair and product build-up. Repeat until the entire area is shaved, saving the upper lip and chin for last so that those tougher whiskers have more time to be moistened.

“Throughout your shave, use your free hand to keep your skin taut and as flat as possible,” adds Sosnick. “This will help you avoid cuts and nicks and give you a close shave.”

The first stroke should be in the direction of hair growth. If you want a closer shave, make sure the shaving product is on the spot before shaving against hair growth. If you have sensitive skin, shaving against hair growth may increase the likelihood of cuts and irritation. Don’t press too hard, especially on the neck area.

When I’m done shaving, I like to apply a mild facial soap and then use 30 additional splashes of water to cleanse my face and neck of any product residue.

Toning and moisturizing

After patting your skin dry with a clean, lint-free towel, it’s time to tone and lock in moisture. Apply toner with a cotton swab or pat it onto your face and neck with your fingers.

Toners help calm skin and tighten pores. Try one without alcohol, especially if you have sensitive skin, because alcohol dries and can irritate skin.

“Think of toning as the rinse process to the cleanse process,” says Slosnick. “After you shave, you should always cleanse away any excess residue or bacteria left behind from shaving.”

The next step, repair, is optional and one that many men don’t think about. It’s something that can go on your face to help repair environmental damage and to mute and even reverse the signs of aging. People age two ways: environmentally and chronologically. A repair step in your shave regimen can restore vitality to your skin.

After applying a repair product -- I prefer Re Vive, which has an epidermal growth factor that rapidly accelerates skin turnover -- allow it to penetrate for about 10 minutes before applying moisturizer.

(If you shave at night before going to bed, a good repair product is Re Vive Sensitif Cellular Repair Cream or Erno Laszlo’s R.E.M. lotion.)

The moisturizer is the final step. It helps seal in moisture and, ideally, balances and regulates moisture and oil levels on the skin’s surface.

Most moisturizers require only a few drops. Pat the product between your two ring fingers to warm it up before patting onto your face. Start at the outside of the face and work your way inward to the nose, since the center of the face typically needs less moisture than the outer edges.

Creams work better for dry skin because they’re thicker and usually contain oil. If your skin is combination or oily, use a water-based or other nonoily lotion. Many moisturizers contain natural ingredients with pleasant aromas that nourish, heal and protect skin.

“Don’t use products with added fragrance,” warns Snyder, “because it makes skin more prone to irritation.”

Armed with this advice and a little discipline, you, too, can sport a face that looks as if it could be on the cover of GQ magazine.

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