I had to be the man who was doing well and more than well, the man whose drub shop concealed some bigger operation that made millions. i had to be the man who had planned it all, who had come to the destroyed town at the bend in the river because he has foreseen the rich future.
This is Naipaul’s great Novel of Africa. Always a traveller , Naipaul wrote this novel based on his travel through the continent. Although loosely based on real life situation in Africa, the novel nonetheless is an intense work of fiction.
The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place it.
These are the opening lines of the book and pretty much sum up everything within. The story is weaved around Salim, a young man from an Indian family of traders long resident on the coast of Central Africa. Salim has left the coast to make his way in the interior, there to take on a small trading shop of this and that, sundries, sold to the natives. The place is “a bend in the river”; it is Africa. The time is post colonial, the time of independence. The Europeans have been forced to withdraw and the scene is one of chaos, violent change, warring tribes, ignorance, isolation, poverty, and a lack of preparation for the modern world they have entered, or partially assumed as a form of decoration.
Salim’s journey is of a person trying to figure out his identity in a world he doesn’t recognize, in a world which he lives but doesnt recognize, a stranger in his own land, an african lost in africa. He struggles to crush his past, forget his life on the coast and start anew in the modern world. On encountering London, the meaningless of life there, more people like him running away from their homes he becomes desolate and seeks his African identity.
Naipaul has masterfully characterized the tribulations of everyday life in Africa and the identity crisis it is undergoing in a brilliant and terrifying way. He has faced some serious criticism for his portrayal of Africa. But i think it is unfair. The account he gives is true and not a hypothetical manipulative glossing depicting the “beautiful” Africa. It is almost a Tolstoyan work.
A nice read.