Magic Seeds

Front Cover
Knopf Canada, 2005 - British - 280 pages
A stunning novel of the present moment that takes us into the hearts and minds of those who use terrorism as an ideal and a way of life, and those who aspire to the frightening power of wealth.

Abandoning a life he felt was not his own, Willie Chandran (the hero of Half a Life) moves to Berlin where his sister’s radical political awakening inspires him to join a liberation movement in India. There, in the jungles and dirt-poor small villages, through months of secrecy and night marches, Willie — a solitary, inward man — discovers both the idealism and brutality of guerilla warfare. When he finally escapes the movement, he is imprisoned for the murder of three policemen. Released unexpectedly on condition he return to England, he attempts to climb back into life in the West, but his experience of wealth, love and despair in London only bedevils him further.

Magic Seeds is a moving tale of a man searching for his life and fearing he has wasted it, and a testing study of the conflicts between the rich and the poor, and the struggles within each. Its spare, elegant prose sizzles with devastating psychological analysis, bleak humour and astonishing characters. Only V. S. Naipaul could have written a novel so attuned to the world and so much a challenge to it.


From the Hardcover edition.

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User Review  - sweetiegherkin - LibraryThing

Please note this review will have spoilers. After leaving behind his wife and his life in Africa, Willie spends time in Berlin with his political sister, who encourages him to return to their homeland ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - PilgrimJess - LibraryThing

Firstly I feel that it is only fair to admit that I read this book not realising that it is the sequal to another,'Half a Life', which I've not read so that will almost certainly have a bearing on my ... Read full review

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About the author (2005)

It had begun many years before, in Berlin. Another world. He was living there in a temporary, half-and-half way with his sister Sarojini. After Africa it had been a great refreshment, this new kind of protected life, being almost a tourist, without demands and without anxiety. It had to end, of course; and it began to end the day Sarojini said to him, "You''ve been here for six months. I may not be able to get your visa renewed again. You know what that means. You may not be able to stay here. That''s the way the world is made. You can''t object to it. You''ve got to start thinking of moving on. Do you have any idea of where you can go? Is there anything you feel you want to do?"

Willie said, "I know about the visa. I''ve been thinking about it."

Sarojini said, "I know your kind of thinking. It means putting something to the back of your mind."

Willie said, "I don''t see what I can do. I don''t know where I can go."

"You''ve never felt there was anything for you to do. You''ve never understood that men have to make the world for themselves."

"You''re right."

"Don''t talk to me like that. That''s the way the oppressor class thinks. They''ve just got to sit tight, and the world will continue to be all right for them."

Willie said, "It doesn''t help me when you twist things. You know very well what I mean. I feel a bad hand was dealt me. What could I have done in India? What could I have done in England in 1957 or 1958? Or in Africa?"

"Eighteen years in Africa. Your poor wife. She thought she was getting a man. She should have talked to me."

Willie said, "I was always someone on the outside. I still am. What can I do here in Berlin?"

"You were on the outside because you wanted to be. You''ve always preferred to hide. It''s the colonial psychosis, the caste psychosis. You inherited it from your father. You were in Africa for eighteen years. There was a great guerrilla war there. Didn''t you know?"

"It was always far away. It was a secret war, until the very end."

"It was a glorious war. At least in the beginning. When you think about it, it can bring tears to the eyes. A poor and helpless people, slaves in their own land, starting from scratch in every way. What did you do? Did you seek them out? Did you join them? Did you help them? That was a big enough cause to anyone looking for a cause. But no. You stayed in your estate house with your lovely little half-white wife and pulled the pillow over your ears and hoped that no bad black freedom ghter was going to come in the night with a gun and heavy boots and frighten you."

"It wasn''t like that, Sarojini. In my heart of hearts I was always on the Africans'' side, but I didn''t have a war to go to."

"If everybody had said that, there would never have been any revolution anywhere. We all have wars to go to."

They were in a caf in the Knesebeckstrasse. In the winter it had been warm and steamy and civilized with its student waiters and waitresses and welcoming to Willie. Now in late summer it was stale and oppressive, its rituals too well known, a reminder to Willie-in spite of what Sarojini said-of time passing fruitlessly by, calling up the mysterious sonnet they had had to learn by heart in the mission school. And yet this time removed was summer''s time . . .

A young Tamil man came in selling long-stemmed red roses. Sarojini made a small gesture with her hand and began to look in her bag. The Tamil came and held the roses to them, but his eyes made no contact with theirs. He claimed no kinship with them. He was self-possessed, the rose-seller, full of the idea of his own worth. Willie, not looking at the man''s face, concentrating on his brown trousers (made by tailors far away) and the too-big gold-plated watch and wristlet (perhaps not really gold) on his hairy wrist, saw that in his own setting the rose-seller would have been someone of no account, someone unseeable. Here, in a setting which perhaps he understood as little as Willie did, a setting which perhaps he had not yet learned to see, he was like a man taken out of himself. He had become someone else.

Willie had met a man like that one day, some weeks before, when he had gone out on his own. He had stopped outside a South Indian restaurant, without customers, with a few ies crawling on the plate-glass windows above the potted plants and the display plates of rice and dosas, and with small amateurish-looking waiters (perhaps not really waiters, perhaps something else, perhaps electricians or accountants illegally arrived) lurking in the interior gloom against the cheap glitter of somebody''s idea of oriental decoration. An Indian or Tamil man had come up to Willie then. Soft-bodied, but not fat, with a broad soft face, and with a at grey cap marked with thin blue lines in a wide check pattern, like the "Kangol" golfer''s caps that Willie remembered seeing advertised on the back pages of the early Penguin books: perhaps the style had come to the man from those old advertisements.

The man began to talk to Willie about the great guerrilla war to come. Willie was interested, even friendly. He liked the soft, smiling face. He was held by the at cap. He liked the conspiratorial talk, the idea it carried of a world about to be astonished. But when the man began to talk of the great need for money, when this talk became insistent, Willie became worried, then frightened, and he began to back away from the restaurant window with the trapped, drowsy ies. And even while the man still appeared to smile there came from his soft lips a long and harsh and profound religious curse delivered in Tamil, which Willie still half understood, at the end of which the man''s smile had gone and his face below the blue-checked golf cap had twisted into a terrible hate.

It unsettled Willie, the sudden use of Tamil, the ancient religious curse into which the man had put all his religious faith, the deep and abrupt hate, like a knife thrust. Willie didn''t tell Sarojini about the meeting with this man. This habit of keeping things to himself had been with him since childhood, at home and at school; it had developed during his time in London, and had become an absolute part of his nature during the eighteen years he had spent in Africa, when he had had to hide so many obvious things from himself. He allowed people to tell him things he knew very well, and he did so not out of deviousness, not out of any settled plan, but out of a wish not to offend, to let things run on smoothly.

Sarojini, now, lay the rose beside her plate. She followed the rose-seller with her eyes as he walked between the tables. When he went out again she said to Willie, "I don''t know what you feel about that man. But he is worth far more than you."

Willie said, "I''m sure."

"Don''t irritate me. That smart way of talking may work with outsiders. It doesn''t work with me. Do you know why that man is worth more than you? He has found his war. He could have hidden from it. He could have said he had other things to do. He could have said he had a life to live. He could have said, ''I''m in Berlin. It''s cost me a lot to get here. All the false papers and visas and hiding. But now that''s done. I''ve got away from home and all that I was. I will pretend to be part of this rich new place. I will watch television and get to know the foreign programmes and start to think that they are really mine. I will go to the KDW and eat at the restaurants. I will learn to drink whisky and wine, and soon I will be counting my money and driving my car and I will feel that I am like the people in the advertisements. I will nd that, really, it wasn''t hard at all to change worlds, and I will feel that that was the way it was meant to be for all of us.'' He could have thought in that false and shameful way. But he saw he had a war. Did you notice? He never looked at us. Of course he knew who we were. He knew we were close to him, but he looked down on us. He thought we were among the pretenders."

Willie said, "Perhaps he was ashamed, being a Tamil and selling roses to these people and being seen by us."

"He didn''t look ashamed. He had the look of a man with a cause, the look of a man apart. It''s something you might have noticed in Africa, if you had learned to look. This man''s selling roses here, but those roses are being turned to guns somewhere else far away. It''s how revolutions are made. I''ve been to some of their camps. Wolf and I are working on a lm about them. We''ll soon be hearing a lot more about them. There is no more disciplined guerrilla army in the world. They are quite ferocious, quite ugly. And if you knew more about your own history you would understand what a miracle that is."



Another day, in the zoo, in the terrible smell of captive and idle wild animals, she said, "I have to talk to you about history. Otherwise you will think I am mad, like our mother''s uncle. All the history you and people like you know about yourselves comes from a British textbook written by a nineteenth-century English inspector of schools in India called Roper Lethbridge. Did you know that? It was the rst big school history book in India, and it was published in the 1880s by the British rm of Macmillan. That makes it just twenty years or so after the Mutiny, and of course it was an imperialist work and it was also meant to make money. But it was also a work of some learning in the British way and it was a success. In all the centuries before in India there had been nothing like it, no system of education like that, no training in that kind of history. Roper Lethbridge went into many edit

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