Bookmarks Issue: 

A-MagicSeedsSpurred on by his revolutionary sister, Willie Chandran leaves Berlin to join the Maoist insurgency in India. Unfortunately for him, he ends up in the wrong group. His guerilla troop of frustrated bureaucrats and tyrannical students spends endless days marching and hiding out, interrupted by the occasional flash of violence. With the good fortune of the feckless, when Willie is arrested for murder, his sister intercedes and he is soon on a plane for England. Once there, he falls into a magazine job, an affair with his lawyer’s wife, and a snobbish multi-cultural London society. In the end, Willie is still adrift—just in a different place.
Knopf. 280 pages. $25. ISBN: 0375407367

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… it is, foremost, an elegant little story—with a moral. … But let us not go overboard and see it as a confessional or a philosophical self-portrayal that is more about the author than it is about his invention." Tunku Varadarajan

Newsday 3 of 5 Stars
"Naipaul is pitiless in depicting lies, shame and bad faith. He makes real life look like play-acting—a fiction that nobody really believes." Scott McLemee

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Like other forms of negative capability, moroseness needs a great deal of artistic energy to hold its materials together. In Magic Seeds … it has dwindled to irritability, with the energy diminished. The themes and ideas are desultory ..." Richard Eder

Independent (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"I wish I could record that Magic Seeds is written with Naipaul’s customary elegance, but I can’t, because it isn’t. The prose is repetitive, set down in a faux-naif manner that soon irritates." Paul Bailey

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"Magic Seeds is a lazy book. Gone is even the pretext of narrative art or plausible dialogue." James Atlas

Guardian (UK) 1 of 5 Stars
"In the end the enterprise is a failure, largely because the author has nothing new or interesting to offer." Mike Phillips

New York Times 1 of 5 Stars
"[Magic Seeds] is less a full-fledged novel than a didactic thesis featuring characters who deliver speeches instead of conversation, and who seem less like real people than mouthpieces for the author’s own sour opinions about everything from colonialism to multiculturalism to the English welfare state." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Half A Life (2001) might have been better been left without this sequel, which ruffles reviewers’ feathers as only a grand old man of literature can. Though his trophy shelf holds a Nobel Prize, his past accomplishments buy him little sympathy. In fact, it’s often difficult to tell if critics are more put off by Magic Seeds or their appraisal of Willie Chandran as a mouthpiece for Naipaul’s politics. For an author whose greatest works have a heavy dose of autobiography, this reaction is not surprising, though it makes one wonder whether critics are reading the novel or dissecting the author. In the end, one hopes the unlikable characters, implausible plotting, and general fog of pessimism are what doom this book, not critical disappointment in Naipaul.

In our Book by Book Profile of V.S. Naipaul in our Summer 2002 issue, we recommended Where to Start: "Naipaul’s two fictional masterworks explore different eras and themes—A House for Mr. Biswas presented Naipaul’s examination of his early life in Trinidad, and A Bend in the River shows Naipaul’s expanded world view and captures the chaos of third-world Africa."