Space porn: These images are (quite literally) out of this world
Willie Chandron, the protagonist of V.S. Naipaul’s “Half a Life,” is a bitter young Indian, and it doesn’t help when his father clarifies a few shameful details of his family’s past. “I despise you,” Willie tells him, and really he despises everything his passionless life has presented him. He goes to London and then Africa to reinvent himself.
The novel hovers around Naipaul’s familiar themes of dislocation, racial intersections, shame and class, but it never feels grandiose; ultimately Willie’s is a navigation of minor social excursions. “Half a Life” is full of sharp stories. Nobody describes prolonged discomfort with quite so many funny, sad moments. Naipaul writes simply and gently. Even in moments of grotesquerie — when, say, Willie brings a woman into a spitting cobra-infested castle and spreads out a rubber sheet for sex — the writing stays restrained.
Willie is like the alien from John Sayles’ film “Brother from Another Planet,” but not as sweet and, as an Indian in the 1950s, only half a brother. He arrives in London not knowing anything. He drifts from bars to dinner parties to newspaper offices, and our fun lies in watching him observe odd social customs and sad class incongruities. Pretentious Brits admit him to their circles, as a mirror or an oddity, and every few pages they say something condescending about India. Naipaul presents London terrifically, as a town of impressionable young heirs still learning to promote themselves in a world shaped by imperial forbears. Everyone looks up to their ancestors for having created such splendor.
Then Willie falls in love, gets married and moves to Portuguese East Africa. He spends 18 years there, an outsider again, but this time on the side of the crumbling empire, as his middle-class wife, Ana, is mainly Portuguese. His house is concrete, not mud, and he weekends with Ana’s European friends — playing Nick Carraway to these Gatsbys of the bush. Willie is still a little displaced in Africa, but not much more so than, say, a Richard Ford character casting about in New Jersey. His trusty alienation now somewhat toothless, Willie submits to the consolations of bourgeois comfort. Granted, this is the bush version of bourgeois, and it includes sex with young African girls, but the point is, he’s no longer rudderless in London.
What’s greatest about “Half a Life” is, of all things, its pacing. In London, Willie can’t be still. We get flashes of British life — a bullied receptionist, a prostitute taking some “French letters” from a bag — and then we’re off to the next room. But in Africa, as Willie eases into the borrowed life of his wife’s world, the camera pans slower and slower. There are interruptions, as when he’s arranging a tryst, but generally this is travel writing: simple bougainvillea descriptions, without mention of alienation, race or class division.
“Half a Life” meanders interestingly in this way — bildungsroman to travel book, England to Africa — and Naipaul is offering us a character with a similarly unstable center. The novel and its protagonist alike drift along with the convolutions of postcolonial Africa and England, but Willie never reduces to a simple metaphor, and the drifting isn’t in service of some glib point. He is, instead, a believable and likably sad man, with half a life left and probably more peripheries to visit along the way.
Chris Colin is the author most recently of "Blindsight," published by the Atavist.More Chris Colin.
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins
On December 28, 2013, Expedition 38 crew member Mike Hopkins participating in the second of two space walks to replace a degraded pump module on the International Space Station. (NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio is reflected in his helmet!)
The Soyuz TMA-10M
The Soyuz TMA-10M headed towards the International Space Station with crew members from Expedition 37 onboard.
40 years ago the Apollo 8 mission flew up to the moon, orbited it ten times and then returned to Earth. This picture was taken from that flight and shows the Earth as it seemingly rises in similar fashion to a sunrise.
Sunrise from Expedition 36
NASA Flight Engineer Karen L. Nyberg of Expedition 36 took this photo of the sun rising -- a sight they saw nearly 16 times per day due to the speed of the International Space Station's orbit around the earth.
A pair of NanoRacks CubeSats -- nanosattelite spacecrafts carrying experiments -- were launched by Expedition 38.